The Week Ahead: 22-29 April 2018

Legislative elections in Gabon provide an opportunity to register discontent with the Bongo Regime. Faroe Islands Constitutional referendum could reshape relations with Denmark and EU. Brexit faces further delays in implementation. All in the Week Ahead.

GABON: Legislative elections provide opportunity to register discontent:

This Saturday, voters will head to the polls to decide if the rule of president Ali Bongo’s political party, the Gabonese Democratic Party, will be extended. Given the token opposition that exists in a state that has been ruled by the same party and family since 1967, it is unlikely the party will actually lose power. Additionally, a series of constitutional changes, including the removal of term limits for the president, has boosted the power of the ruling party. However, the strength of the Bongo regime could still be tested, as seen in the closely contested 2016 presidential election, where Bongo won by less than 6,000 votes. Since then, the Gabon Democratic Party has moved to restrict civil society and opposition parties and has barred many opposition party leaders from contesting seats. Amnesty International has reported on dozens of political prisoners in Libreville and the violation of basic human rights. With over one-third of the country living on just $1.25 a day, Gabonese voters may still use this opportunity to voice their discontent with the ruling party. Or, perhaps just as likely, Gabonese voters may decide to just stay home.

GRI Take: The Bongo regime will likely remain confidently in power; however, analysts should pay attention to abstention rates and votes for the opposition as a sign of popular discontent with the ruling regime.


DENMARK: Faroe Islands referendum could pave the way for closer ties with the EU:

  • This Wednesday, the Faroe Islands will vote on whether to approve a new constitution, which could pave a new direction for the islands’ relationship with Denmark and the European Union. The Faroe Islands, situated between Scotland’s Shetland Islands, Norway, and, Iceland, has been a self-governing territory for nearly 70 years, following a referendum in which a narrow majority voted to become independent from Denmark but was subsequently ignored.
  • The Faroe Islands, unlike some other self-governing regions in Europe, maintains its own trade relations and has an independent relationship with the European Union. One of the main economic issues the Faroese would like to change is their relationship with the EU. The Faroe Islands have few trade restrictions to EU goods, while the EU does not extend reciprocity to Faroe Islands’s goods. This is particularly important when it comes to the Islands’ most important export: fish. The island has lost market share to other fishing nations in the region with closer ties to the EU, like Norway and Scotland, and sees adjusting this imbalance in fisheries quotas as a top economic priority.

GRI Take: While it is uncertain whether the Faroe Islands would ultimately vote in favor of independence, this referendum could lead to a more substantive push for updated trade ties with the EU. This could become a particularly salient point soon, as the Faroe Islands has also taken another crack at oil exploration. Should it find and successfully exploit anything close to Scotland’s North Sea reserves, the Faroe Islands’ relationship with the EU could become much more important.

UK: Brexit struggle continues as votes and progress are delayed:

  • Last week, the government suffered one of the most lopsided defeats of any bill in the House or Lords, where Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, cross-benchers, and rebel Tories coalesced around defeating the Commons EU (Withdrawal) Bill. This week, the government is likely to lose more votes in the upper chamber as other tricky issues are considered. The vote’s defeat was largely linked to the government’s insistence on withdrawing from the EU customs union. Baroness Hayter, a leading Labour Lord, pointed out that voters did not vote to leave the customs union.
  • The defeat of the Commons EU Bill will require going through Commons again, making formal withdrawal much more difficult to attain in 2019. As the government struggles with the Lords, it is also once again confronting the Northern Ireland situation. As these updates have previously noted, the incoherence of the desire to leave the EU customs union without creating a hard border and potentially abrogating the Good Friday Agreement has created a repeating headache as the sides are seemingly incompatible.
  • Relying on previous kick-the-can logic, without a firm commitment and backdoor option for the June meeting, the UK government has instead said its real deadline to have a solution is October. That response was not encouraging to the EU, who said the risk of failure in the Brexit negotiations was still possible as long as the UK government didn’t show real commitment to making some difficult decisions on Northern Ireland.

GRI Take: If The May government hopes to pass the Commons EU Bill, it will have to solve underlying issues, such as the customs union and the Good Friday Agreement. Do not expect to see Brexit occur in a timely manner.


Stay ahead of the news cycle with GRI. Drawing on expert knowledge and local sources, The Week Ahead provides analytical foresight on the consequences of key upcoming political developments.

This edition of The Week Ahead was produced by GRI Senior Analyst Brian Daigle and Managing Editor William Christou.
Categories: Politics, The Week Ahead

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