While Republicans will once again be represented by Trump, the Democrats have also chosen to field another familiar face in the country’s political arena namely Joe Biden, the vice-president of the Obama-era. National poll had thus far given Biden a slight lead over Trump but as seen in the previous election, such poll can hardly be conclusive and with such a narrow margin, it will be rather hard to call it for any of the candidates prior to voting day.
The election comes at a time when the country has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed thousands of Americans. Voting-in-person will be a challenge for some communities and Trump’s refusal to strongly endorse mail-in voting amid fraud concerns could also heighten tension prior to election day. Despite this, a record turnout could still be possible as pointed by Pew Research Centre that said votes cast might reach 145 million, up from 133 million in 2016. Four million people have already voted as of early October, 50 times higher than in 2016, perhaps an indication of the level of interest for this election.
Results are expected to trickle in throughout the night of 3 November and there have been concerns that Trump might refuse to concede if results were too close to call, leading to a stalemate.
Post-election rallies by both sides also should not be ruled out as seen in 2016 following Trump’s victory and the deep divisions over various issues since he took over could also aggravate tension in some communities, days or weeks after voting day. The violent protests experienced throughout summer could once again be reignited while right-wing groups might also exploit the situation to voice out their support for Trump. Clashes between groups are not impossible, leading to looting and rioting especially in big cities.
The 2020 race to the White House has become the most highly anticipated election since 2004 (Source: Pew Research Center)
While both sides have blamed each other for instigating the latest round of violence, it was Azeri troops who are on the offensive on at least three fronts. According to the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, the fighting will only cease once all pro-Armenian forces withdraw from the enclave and surrounding territories. Similarly, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, has also vowed to fight on as Azerbaijan’s terms were deemed unacceptable. Multilateral efforts to create new ceasefire conditions have met limited success. Neither party is likely to be pressured by international organizations, after years of stalled progress to find a negotiated settlement on Nagorno-Karabakh through conflict resolution mechanisms such as the OSCE Minsk Group. Apart from a decisive military victory, international observers generally consider direct Russian and Turkish influences as the main factor that will decide the outcome of this crisis.
From being relatively muted, the conflict now poses a persistent security risk for the South Caucasus region. While much of the fighting has been contained in the enclave, several missile and drone attacks have targeted Armenian and Azeri cities, causing civilian casualties. These attacks also exposed the vulnerability of strategic oil and gas pipelines that run near the contested territory. The movement also remains highly restricted on land and in the air as both countries have declared martial law in preparation for a wider conflict. Furthermore, the possibility of direct confrontation between Russian and Turkish-aligned forces is increasing daily. Having delayed its response, Moscow is now considering the implementation of the “Lavrov Plan”, a controversial conflict resolution initiative that would see Armenia withdrawing from occupied territory in exchange for the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Mainstream media reports on the deployment of foreign mercenaries also marked an increasingly normal international trend of interference by external states using local proxy forces supported by a limited yet potent military footprint to secure interests in local conflicts. Should Ankara consider this operation a success, Turkish military diplomacy could also be emboldened to act more aggressively in other disputed areas such as in maritime waters around the Mediterranean Sea.
The breakdown of two ceasefires just days apart reflects the fragility the current status quo has become. Even as a new ceasefire is being inked out, offensives and counter-offensives are being conducted throughout the enclave. Continued instability has already demonstrated a security risk that encompasses the South Caucasus region. Other than more costly fighting, Armenia and Azerbaijan must find a compromise on the issue. In the past, frameworks such as the “Lavrov Plan” and “Kazan Formula” have been presented as not only respecting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity but also the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. With the latest escalation, it is high time for constructive steps to be taken towards a peaceful settlement that prioritizes the interests of both parties.
Data compiled between 27 September till 21 October show cross-border armed incidents near Nagorno-Karabakh have increased significantly amid the ongoing conflict
What to look out for this month:
Analyst Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Chan Hoi Cheong
Senior Analyst and Office Manager Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Analyst Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Senior Analyst Lund, Sweden