As we usher in the brand-new year of 2019, GWS looks at some of the major events that will be taking place across the globe. Political-wise, several major developing economies such as India and Indonesia will head to the polls and their results are likely to have impacts transcending across borders. While the threat from North Korea has significantly been reduced thanks to the summit in Singapore, a lot of work would still be needed as Washington and Pyongyang move forward to the next phase with a summit between leaders, President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un on the horizon. The same, however, cannot be said for Iran where sanctions have been re-imposed by Trump in a move that is likely to generate more instability in the Middle East. In Europe, eyes will be on the United Kingdom that is all set to leave the European Union (EU) after the triggering of Article 50 almost two years ago. Last but not least, the US-China trade war is also likely to dominate global attention as the two economic giants seek to reach a deal to resolve it.

Election time for major emerging economies

It is decision time for voters in several major emerging economies from Asia to Africa in 2019. A few of them will be highly anticipated as their impacts could transcend across borders. In Asia, the world’s largest democracy, India, will head to the polls in what could be a tough battle for Narendra Modi to stay in power. Amid bruises suffered from state polls, Modi would have to cool down voters’ disenchantment over the economic promises that put him in power in 2014. The election could also mean that risk of violence in the run-up and in the aftermath of the polls remains high amid ethnic and religious tension in states such as Kashmir, Maharashtra and West Bengal among others.

In Southeast Asia, the president of the largest democratic country in the Muslim world, Joko Widodo of Indonesia, will also be facing 192 million voters in an election in April. In a likely rematch with his old rival Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi would have to defend his records in the past few years as president, as well as convincing them to give him another five. While he has so far enjoyed a comfortable lead in popularity polls, he still needs to set out his plans to spur the Indonesian economy amidst pledges to improve infrastructure, power generation and people’s welfare. Meanwhile, an election will also finally come into fruition when the military junta said it will be carried out as scheduled on 24 February. Amidst constitutional changes, the possibility of a coalition government is also higher, and this could also result in more political instability until the parties can unite. Street clashes and disruption to economic activities should also not be ruled out if such instability prolongs. In the Philippines, a mid-term election will also be held in what could be a key test for Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency that has seen a harsh campaign against drug peddlers.

Last but not least, Nigerians will also be heading to the polls to decide if they want to keep Muhammad Buhari as their president. Buhari was swept into power in 2015 following promises to fight corruption, improve the economy as well as to end the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. Results have been mixed and the poor health associated with Buhari during his first term could also be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls in February. With history of tense elections in the past, violence is also possible should there be any doubts to the credibility of the polls.

Key elections calendar 2019 

  • Nigerian General Election: 16 February
  • Thai General Election: 24 February
  • India General Election: April to May
  • Indonesian General Election: 17 April
  • Philippine General Election: 13 May
  • Afghan Presidential Election: By July/August
  • *South African General Election: By 4 August
  • *Greek General Election: By 20 October
  • Argentine General Election: 27 October
  • *Tunisian Presidential Election: By December

*No firm dates set as of writing

Brexit enters endgame: Deal or no deal?

Come 29 March, the United Kingdom will be required to leave the European Union (EU) as the two-year period for exit negotiation comes to an end. Despite this, the chaos that marked the negotiation process led by Theresa May’s government has only led to question if an exit deal will ever be reached, so that interests of both entities can be protected. The remaining few months will be critical as May is set to present the deal for the approval of the British parliament, which has been deeply divided. On top of gaining support from the other side of the aisle, May’s support from her own colleagues in the Conservative Party has also been fragile despite her survival in a leadership challenge in last December. Should the vote go the other way around, all possibilities including new general elections, or another referendum will also be considered.  Alternatively, May can also choose to pause the entire process to allow for more talks or walk away from the bloc without a deal.

North Korea and Iran: Similar issues, different approaches

US President Donald Trump has been approaching both North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear threats in a rather different manner, and 2019 will likely be a year where he will continue to showcase his administration’s mettle in tackling them. A second summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seems to be on the card despite stalled nuclear talks between officials from both sides. In his New Year’s message, Kim appeared to have struck a conciliatory tone but did not rule out the possibility of things turning awry. The second summit will therefore be vital in retaining the positive atmosphere set out in Singapore. At the same time, Trump and Kim would also need to work on some specifics in order to keep the momentum for denuclearization going. 

For Iran, efforts aimed at defusing the tension with Washington since Trump shredded the nuclear deal appeared to be going nowhere and there is still little room for optimism. As sanctions continued to bite Tehran, Trump has also offered very little on how he plans to advance the talks except for a brief statement that his administration is still open for renegotiations. It is also important to note that Trump’s promise of bringing Iranian oil exports to zero in the longer term could also lead to increased tension in the region, as Tehran might move to shut the Straits of Hormuz, resulting in a serious armed conflict.

China-US trade war to continue garner attention

There will be continuous focus on the trade war between the two most powerful economies in the world, China and the United States. Although a truce came into effect late last year, the talks to resolve the dispute remain challenging as Beijing is very unlikely to concede to all demands from Washington amidst the threat of tariffs expansion. While Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to purchase more US products in order to further reduce the trade deficit, Trump’s pushy and at times contradictory approach will only mean a limited and pragmatic deal is more likely instead of one in which “the winner takes all”.

Grassroots movements to grow following “Yellow Vests” success

The year could see the formation of more grassroots movements following the success of the so-called “Yellow Vests” (gilets jaunes) protests in France last year. As opposed to other protests that are often backed by political parties or trade unions, such movements could see its appeal heightened amidst resistance to reforms or anger over economic injustice that affects the masses. Inspired by the events in France, similar movements have already started in several European countries such as Finland, Germany Belgium, Netherlands to those as far as Taiwan, Pakistan and Egypt, among others. In Mexico, the revival of the Zapatista movement over the planned Maya rail line by the Mexican president is also yet another example of its rise. While the success rates varied, such movements are definitely a major travel risk trend to look out for in 2019.

Calendar for summits in 2019 (dates and locations)

  • World Economic Forum: Davos, Switzerland on 22-25 January
  • African Union Summit: Addis Ababa in January
  • G7 Summit 2019: Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France on 25-27 August
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit 2019: Brussels, Belgium on 22 July
  • *Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit 2019: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  • G20 Summit 2019: Osaka, Japan on 28-29 June
  • United Nations Climate Change Conference/COP24: Chile on 11-12 November
  • 11th BRICS Summit: Brazil*
  • Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit 2019 and related events: Thailand on 22-23 June
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit 2019: Santiago, Chile on 16-17 November
  • *30th Arab League Summit: Tunis, Tunisia in March

*No firm dates set as of writing


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