IVORY COAST GEARS UP FOR UNPREDICTABLE OCTOBER ELECTION

Ivorians are set to head to the polls on 31 October, in what will be a major democratic test for a country marred by a history of violence associated with elections.  A tense election period has been forecast, due in large to the contentious candidates that are expected to take part. 

Three key personalities, Alassane Ouattara, Guillaume Soro, and Laurent Gbagbo have all declared their intentions of running for the upcoming elections, despite multiple constitutional barriers that seek to deny just that. The current President Alassane Ouattara will be seeking a third term, which is clearly prohibited in the country’s constitution. Ouattara and his supporters have however argued that modifications made to the constitution in 2016 have reset the two-term limits provision, therefore allowing him to seek re-election. Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader turned Prime Minister, has also sought to bid for the presidency. The constitution prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from running and considering Soro’s 2016 sentencing for “concealment of embezzlement of public funds,” his candidacy is unlikely to gain any traction. Another contentious figure vying for power is former President Laurent Gbagbo. It was Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara after the 2010 election that sparked a bloody conflict that leftover 3,000 people dead. The violence ultimately led to prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Gbagbo, on charges of crimes against humanity, that is yet to be finalized. 

Considering these factors, a shortlist of presidential candidates has been drafted by the Ivory Coast Constitutional Council. The court has barred 40 candidates from running in the election, including the bids of Soro and Gbagbo. The court has however ruled in favor of Ouattara and has therefore sanctioned his re-election bid. As it stands, Ouattara will be challenged by three candidates, namely former President Henri Konan Bedie, former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, and Kouadio Konan Bertin. 

Opposition groups have understandably reacted angrily to this decision. Deadly protests broke out in the country when Ouattara declared his intention of running in August, providing a stark reminder of the fragile peace in place since the 2010 violent conflict. Clashes also broke out after supporters of Gbagbo and Soro took to the streets in several cities, including Abidjan, after both leaders were barred from running. Despite their omission from the official ballot, Gbagbo and Soro have both been vocal in their opposition to the 31 October election and could still play a major part in whether the vote proceeds peacefully. Anti-Ouattara demonstrations have drawn hundreds of participants in Guiglo, Bangolo, Facobly, and Duekoue, and opposition groups have called for a civil disobedience campaign in the lead up to the election.  

Bearing in mind these circumstances, a tense and volatile period seems inevitable and the upcoming election will prove to be a major test of stability for a nation that has weathered a civil war just 10 years ago. At stake is the positive progress and reforms made after the violent conflict as well as the country’s reputation as an economic and security anchor in West Africa. 

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GREEK-TURKISH RELATIONSHIP ENTERS UNCHARTED WATERS AMID MEDITERRANEAN DISPUTE

Following Turkey’s decision to deploy the Oruc Reis research ship to disputed waters in the strategic Eastern Mediterranean on 12 August 2020, a long-standing maritime dispute between Greece and Turkey in this region came close to a military confrontation.  Aerial interceptions at the border areas have increased while at least one Turkish military vessel was rammed by a Greek ship. While no shots have been fired, a heightened state of military activity has taken shape in these waters throughout August and much of September with several military exercises conducted by both navies as a show of force.   

The latest escalation stems from overlapping claims of sovereignty over these resource-rich maritime waters.  While Turkey is not a member of the treaty, both countries have referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a legal framework for marine and maritime activities. However, the law is not binding and requires disputing parties to negotiate a satisfactory outcome. Given the deep-seated animosity between the two states, despite being members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance, the issue has remained unresolved for decades.  

While diplomatic channels remain active, constructive progress has been limited.  The international community such as the European Union has largely favored Greece’s position. However, Turkey is unlikely to buckle under diplomatic pressure and threats of sanctions as ownership of these waters are considered a national security priority of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine the government has adopted. At the same time, Ankara and Athens have accused each other of further militarising the issue. Amid a major military expansion plan, Greece has been accused of deploying troops on demilitarised islands close to the Turkish border while Turkey has stated intentions to deploy the S-400 air defense system into the theatre, allowing Ankara the capability to create an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) bubble over the waters in the near future.  

For now, Greece and Turkey are expected to continue with the display of saber-rattling and continue pursuing their goals through diplomacy. However, this maritime dispute will continue to pose a dangerous flashpoint until a compromise is made and even a minor provocation by either adversary could prove to be a costly miscalculation and impose a significant impact some of the busiest maritime and air routes in the world. 

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Risk of continuous Israeli airstrikes in Syria amid Hezbollah containment policy

The situation in Syria remains unstable on a geopolitical level, with a risk of escalation in the upcoming months. The Israeli Defense Forces have previously launched missile attacks near the capital Damascus against military targets and assets, including ammunition depots and other infrastructures, that were allegedly provided by Iran to militias such as Hezbollah. These new offensive measures are part of a general policy of containment from Israel towards the presence of Iranian-backed organizations in the area. While the risk of a major conflict remains low, the potential for escalation in attacks, including additional missile strikes, in areas near the Syrian capital Damascus and the disputed Golan Heights must still be considered. 

Calls for reforms grow louder amid protests by pro-democracy groups in Thailand

Thailand has witnessed a series of street protests since July as the country continues its recovery process from the Covid-19 outbreak. The protests have put a spotlight on numerous issues including the leadership of Prayuth Chan-o-Cha who has been accused stifling democratic rights, growing inequality, a sluggish economy, and perhaps the most unusual of all, resentment against the royalist establishment. Most of the protests proceeded peacefully but scuffles have broken out previously and the government also deployed a high number of personnel to maintain security. While the protest movements in the past were backed by individuals with strong financial and political backings, the organizers for the latest round have insisted that their activism grew organically on social media and support came mostly from youth movements across the country. With the anger unlikely to subside to any time soon, the protesters are likely to carry on with their action into October and beyond.

Presidential debates set stage for fierce clashes between rival candidates

During the month of August, several incendiary balloons were launched from the edge of the Gaza Strip towards bordering areas with Israel. The attacks caused fires in agricultural land in southern Israel, and in response, multiple airstrikes were launched by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) towards alleged Hamas positions in Gaza. Additionally, fishing off the coast was prohibited, and fuel supplies limited, causing major power outages and aggravating economic conditions in the Strip. Regional countries such as Egypt and Qatar tried to mediate in the conflict to prevent additional escalation using different approaches, such as providing economic aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The new political landscape in the region after the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could lead to a stabilization in conflict areas. However, it could also give ground to opposing groups to denounce the pact and pursue violent actions. While both sides eventually reached a truce on 31 August, it remains unclear if it will hold as similar arrangements previously had also collapsed in a matter of weeks or months.

Protesting medical workers hamper Covid-19 response amid concerns over new waves

Six months into the Covid-19 outbreak, medical personnel all around the world are facing burnouts due to multi–fold issues including overloading of work as well as lack of staff and resources. As a result, essential players battling Covid-19 mainly nurses and doctors in Nigeria, South Korea, India, and Spain among others, shirked their duties in the past months, hampering the ongoing efforts to contain the virus amid the fresh spike and resurgence of cases globally. The walkout by medical front-liners is likely to continue indefinitely if grievances mount and they could subsequently impact Covid-19 responses in the face of the second or third wave of infections in the coming months.

SEPTEMBER TIMELINE

What to look out for this month: