PRS’ coverage of the Americans includes a report on Panama, where the government’s failure to take aggressive action to battle corruption has eroded both the popular support and the credibility of President Juan Carlos Varela, who is barely two years into his five-year term. The black eye delivered by the “Panama Papers” controversy has been compounded by evidence that the government is not genuinely committed to improving the transparency of the domestic financial system, and the negative attention poses an obstacle to the government’s efforts to attract new foreign investment needed to bolster an economy set to slow with the completion of the canal-expansion project. The report will assess the implications of Varela’s sagging support for the president’s ability to muster the legislative support required to ensure the passage of legislation, and the prospects for an improvement in the climate for investment and trade over the remainder of the current term.
Our coverage of the Middle East and North Africa features a post-election update on Morocco, where voters will elect a new Parliament on October 7. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is forecast to retain its status as the largest party, although an upset for the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which effectively operates as the monarch’s party in the Parliament, cannot be ruled out. In any case, forming a government will require the winner to pull together a coalition of three of more parties, an arrangement that will slow the pace of policy implementation and a moderate risk of destabilizing disagreements among the governing partners. PRS will discuss the most likely coalition scenarios and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the alternatives in terms of their ability to deliver the reforms needed to ensure long-term fiscal stability and attract the foreign investment that will be essential to creating jobs for young Moroccans, whose limited economic opportunities make them susceptible to radical ideologies.
Turning to Western Europe, PRS will examine the potential for heightened political risk in the Netherlands as the country prepares for a general election next March. The contest appears to be developing into a close fight for first place between Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the lead party in the incumbent governing coalition, and Geert Wilders’ populist-right Freedom Party (PVV), which is promising the ‘de-Islamization’ of the country, and to stage a copycat Brexit referendum on continuing membership in the EU. The report will analyze the likely coalition options coming out of the election, and what the composition of the governing alliance will mean for both political stability and the policy agenda, particularly in terms of the country’s relationship with the EU going forward.
Over in Eastern Europe, we will focus this month on Kazakhstan, where the issue of presidential succession has once again come to the fore following the recent death of Uzbekistan’s long-time leader, Islam Karimov, with no clear successor positioned to take over. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has consciously avoided grooming his heir-apparent, a process that once initiated will create a risk of tensions between rival political factions that could endanger the unity of the governing Nur-Otan party, and a Cabinet reshuffle undertaken shortly after Karimov’s death has done little to clarify the issue.
PRS will discuss where the succession stakes currently stand, while also examining more immediate concerns for investors, including a slow-moving privatization process that targets the sale of some 172 small and medium-sized enterprises over the next three years, before larger state-owned firms at put on the auction bloc beginning in 2018. Our update will examine both the opportunities made available under the proposed privatization plan, as well as risks for investors, illustrated recently by an attempt by KazMunaiGaz, the state-owned oil company, to buy out minority shareholders of its British subsidiary at lower-than-market value.
In sub-Saharan Africa, PRS will take a close look at the risk profile in Botswana, which has long been seen as one of the region’s safer investment destinations. Our report looks at what the government plans to do to wean the country off its reliance on diamond mining—which accounts for one-fifth of GDP and one-third of budget revenue, and is also the main source of foreign exchange earnings—as part of a broader assessment of the reforms the country requires to sustain its favorable macro-fiscal metrics.
PRS will also examine recent developments in Angola, which is struggling to maintain its creditworthiness as the negative oil-price shock is fueling a balance of payments crisis. Analysis will include an assessment of the prospects for relief from the liquidity squeeze that is creating problems for the corporate sector, and an examination of the turmoil risks associated with building socioeconomic stresses and the potential for an escalation of violence in Cabinda Province, where separatist rebels sense an opportunity to exploit the government’s troubles to further their cause.
Kenya has entered a tense election season marked by concerns over voter fraud and violence between rival ethnic and political groups. President Uhuru Kenyatta remains the favorite to win a second term in office at the elections scheduled for August 2017, but the opposition led by Raila Odinga will attack the government’s poor record in fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law. Kenya’s elections are traditionally marred by violence, but a cross-party agreement on reforming the electoral commission marks a major step toward reducing the risk of repeat of the widespread and deadly political violence that followed elections held in late 2007.
Kenya’s economy is a top regional performer forecast to expand by 6% in 2016. Inflation remains within the 5+/- 2.5% target range, and the central bank holds foreign reserves equivalent to 5.2 months of import cover. However, another expansionary budget for 2016/17 has highlighted mid-term concerns over the pace of external debt accumulation. Populist measures will also be of concern in the election season, such as the imposition in September of a cap on commercial lending rates at 400 basis points above the central bank’s benchmark rate.
In Asia, we return to Singapore this month to focus on the succession plan for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon, who has indicated he will step down after the next parliamentary elections are held in little more than four years’ time, but is now in his mid-60s, has previously had cancer and suffered a sudden, but brief, collapse recently on live television. Our report looks at who might take over, while assessing the risk of instability in what has been hitherto one of the world’s most investor-friendly business domains, as the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) seeks to protect its own authority, which has gone largely unchallenged over the more than 50 years since independence. Our report looks at the political reforms to be ushered in prior to the next presidential elections due by August 2017, and evaluates the implications of the passage of other controversial legislation, including most recently the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill. Our report rounds out by gauging the effectiveness of investor regulation in the light of a recent private oil company default, and the prospects for real GDP growth and other economic indicators affected by various global and regional risks.