The Week Ahead: 30 September – 6 October

The Week Ahead: 30 September – 6 October
Elections in Cameroon, Brazil, and Latvia. Kavanaugh confirmation. All in The Week Ahead.

BRAZIL: Significant tension as elections loom and far-right leader appears to be in the lead

  • This Sunday, Brazil’s more than 140 million voters will head to the polls in the first of likely two rounds in determining President Michel Temer’s successor. The race was shaken up last month when former president “Lula” da Silva was barred from running for president following the upholding of his conviction for corruption (his vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad has taken his place for the Workers’ Party).
  • Complex dynamics, particularly around corruption have elevated the candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro, a congressman known for making misogynistic and homophobic statements and with strong backing from Brazil’s evangelical population.

GRI take: With Bolsonaro currently polling at around 30%, he appears to be likely to secure the top vote (but not yet with enough support to avoid a runoff). Whether Haddad secures the second place position is uncertain given corruption allegations against the PT and fears among Brazilians that the PT will follow in the policy direction of Venezuela (the PT has at several opportunities supported Venezuela). Massive protests were launched by women when Bolsonaro was released from the hospital following a stabbing at an election event, and opposition from women could be decisive in the runoff election. In several instances in the past few years in major South American elections, candidates with strong first round support were unable to consolidate sufficient support beyond their core voters and ultimately lost in the runoff (Scioli in Argentina in 2015, Fujimori in Peru in 2016). Whether concern over the PT’s corruption allegations and ties to Venezuela or opposition to Bolsonaro’s provocative statements will ultimately be decisive is uncertain, but the strength of the PT’s support in the first round should give an indication of how much ground it will have to gain to defeat Bolsonaro (and conversely, how much support Bolsonaro will need to secure from other parties to secure majority support). Should it happen, runoff elections will be held in late October.

LATVIA: Parliament elections likely to create confusion as major issues bubble up

  • This Sunday, Latvia will vote for its 100-member parliament, the Saeima, which will then vote to establish the government. The current prime minister, Maris Kucinskis of the Union of Greens and Farmers, a junior party in the government’s coalition (following the resignation of prime minister and Unity Party leader Laimdota Straujuma in 2016) will seek to strengthen his party’s position. The number of political parties contesting the election has bloomed to 16, and with a 5% threshold to enter parliament, the distribution of seats and the coalition that follows will be uncertain for at least the week following the election.
  • Harmony, Latvia’s largest political coalition, combines center-left politics and supporting the rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia. In contrast to its Baltic neighbors, Latvia has a major Russian portion of its population (with some estimates as high as 40%) unified in a major political party. Despite its size, Harmony has consistently remained outside of government.

GRI take: Two major components of Latvian political life, Russia and Latvia’s position in global finance, have added multiple layers to this election and make the outcome hazy. In attempting to win ethnic Latvians, Harmony has straddled a careful line: undoing its cooperation agreement with United Russia while also not addressing Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Adding further to the uncertainty, the third largest political party in current polling, the KPV, maintains an authoritarian friendly perspective while also running on an anti-elite and anti-corruption platform. Between these two forces, an array of centrist, center-right, and right-leaning political parties are jockeying for position and to not be locked out of the Saeima. There are rumors that two parties and the traditionally flexible Union of Greens and Farmers could join in an election, though what this coalition would look like and how it would deal with Russia relations, the EU, and financial regulations in light of the Latvian money laundering scandal, is entirely uncertain.

CAMEROON: While President Biya is a shoo-in to secure reelection, tensions between English- and French-speaking Cameroonians are likely

  • This Sunday, voters in Cameroon are likely to reelect incumbent President Paul Biya, who, with his party the Rassemblement démocratique du Peuple Camerounais, has held power for 36 years. The term of 7 years will make President Biya one of the longest serving presidents in the world. Despite what is likely to be a landslide victory (precipitated, in no small part, due to a heavily divided opposition that was unable to coalesce around a unity candidate), tensions are likely to continue to rise between English-speaking Cameroonians in the northwest and southwest regions bordering Nigeria and the government.
  • English speakers in these areas, claiming years of discrimination, have founded separatist and autonomy-seeking groups, some of whom have sought violent means to contest their current position. President Biya, and the 80% of Cameroonians who are French-speaking, have taken a very negative view of the issue, with President Biya calling for a curfew as well as a strong military response.
  • Several bridges have been blown up, and there are significant questions over whether citizens in that region will even be able to vote (many have fled the violence and the government has indicated they will be unable to vote unless they vote in their originally designated polling station).

GRI take: With additional calls for a crackdown, Biya’s likely reelection, and other domestic concerns (in particular the threat posed by Boko Haram), it is likely that tensions in the English-speaking border regions will escalate. This issue, along with Boko Haram, will be one of the largest for Biya to contend with, and may escalate depending on how large a crackdown he initiates following his election.

UNITED STATES: Kavanaugh vote to be Supreme Court Justice possible this week

  • While the timing is uncertain, it is possible (likely either Friday or over the weekend) that the U.S. Senate will hold its confirmation vote for DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. With Kavanaugh’s conservative voting record on a number of prominent policies (particularly abortion), and Justice Kennedy’s somewhat moderate record on civil liberties issues, his confirmation would likely swing the ideological spectrum of the Supreme Court firmly to the right for several decades. Subsequently, his confirmation had already garnered significant opposition from the Democratic Party, though with 51 Republican senators and a handful of moderate Democrats, his confirmation had appeared likely.
  • However, the allegation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while both were in high school, followed by allegations from two other women, threw the confirmation process into chaos. While last week a confirmation vote appeared to be heading to the floor, following Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh’s remarks at a special Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Senator Jeff Flake indicated he would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh without an FBI investigation to verify the claims made by Dr. Ford. Two moderate Republicans, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, as well as moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, quickly supported the move and an FBI investigation was launched.

GRI take: With only a week to investigate the claim, and the White House allegedly constraining the limits of the investigation, the FBI should be delivering its findings to the Senate by this Friday. It is uncertain what the FBI will determine, but the key voices to follow are the senators mentioned above. With growing opposition to Kavanaugh and rising Democratic engagement ahead of the November midterm elections, the range of outcomes could vary from a 53-47 confirmation to the first defeat of a Supreme Court candidate since Robert Bork in 1987.

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