Pro-Khan unrest in Pakistan, upcoming elections in Turkey and flooding in Rwanda and DRC
Pakistan: Former PM’s arrest fuels violent, widespread protests
The arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9 triggered violent countrywide protests that have resulted in significant travel disruptions, clashes between security forces and Khan supporters, and telecommunications disruptions across Pakistan. Protesters blocked major roads, destroyed at least 25 police vehicles, set fire to multiple buildings and government offices – including the Radio Pakistan building in Peshawar and Pakistan Muslim League party office in Lahore – and stormed military buildings in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Confrontations between pro-Khan activists and police materialized in several major cities, including Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, and Lahore; security forces responded with tear gas and arrested at least 1,000 supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI). At least eight protesters died, and more than 90 others sustained injuries in Peshawar; Pakistani authorities also said 157 police officers were injured in clashes with protesters in Punjab. In addition to suspending mobile data services and blocking access to social media, the government banned gatherings of more than four people in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, and the city of Islamabad for 30 days and deployed army personnel to the capital and Punjab. Despite these measures, however, protests have continued into May 10. Imran Khan has been indicted on charges of corruption for hiding earnings from the sale of state gifts acquired during his premiership (2018-2022), although the PTI denied these allegations and claimed the arrest was politically motivated. Protests of a similar magnitude have occasionally erupted across Pakistan since Khan’s removal from office in April 2022, highlighting the destabilizing effects of his ouster, which are likely to persist ahead of general elections scheduled for October. The current graft case is one of more than 100 registered against Khan since his removal, which indicates that similar outbursts of violent civil unrest in support of the former prime minister are likely if he is indicted on the remaining charges.
Turkey: Limited incidents of violence precede tense elections
The tense leadup to forthcoming general elections in Turkey has been marked by limited incidents of political violence between the supporters of the leading candidates; however, the threat of political unrest and targeted violence is likely to increase slightly if the presidential race goes to a runoff on May 28 or if results are contested. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing off against several opposition candidates including Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who represents a coalition of six parties and currently has a narrow lead in polls. While the May 14 vote will determine the makeup of the Turkish Parliament, failure by any presidential candidate to secure more than half the vote on that date will lead to a runoff two weeks later. According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, approximately 600,000 security personnel will be deployed nationwide to ensure security on election day, though the campaign cycle has thus far been marked by limited political violence. On May 7, in the eastern city of Erzurum, approximately 200 protestors threw rocks at an election rally for Kılıçdaroğlu, injuring Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and six others. İmamoğlu accused police and pro-Erdoğan officials in Erzurum of allowing the attack to happen, though national officials have condemned the violence and arrested thirteen suspects. Brawls have also been observed amongst Turkish expatriates during early voting at overseas polling stations in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Tensions are elevated as Erdoğan – who has led Turkey continuously since 2003 – seeks to retain his office despite presiding over major challenges during his current term. These include the inadequate response to February 2023’s massive earthquakes and 85% inflation linked to flawed economic policies. Various international and domestic groups plan to send delegations of observers to ensure free and fair elections, with organizations such as the EU’s Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressing concerns that structural factors are contributing to a “challenging and difficult” environment for opposition candidates and parties. Observers have historically criticized the Turkish government for the arrest or marginalization of political figures, as well as for failing to prevent violence against party offices, candidates, and supporters during election cycles. Further such incidents in the run-up to or on election day – or allegations of voting irregularities and manipulation – raise the threat of large and disruptive political demonstrations as well as security operations. The tense political environment, close scrutiny of election processes, and allegations of security force negligence also suggest that more widespread political violence cannot be ruled out after officials announce the results of the May 14 vote.
Central Africa: Heavy rainfall and flooding in Rwanda and DRC
Flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rains have killed at least 530 people in parts of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since May 2, in addition to causing massive displacement and significant private property and infrastructure damage. In Rwanda, the storms mostly affected Northern and Western provinces, although some damage was also reported in the south; the Rwandan government has confirmed that the northwestern districts of Ngororero, Rubavu, Nyabihu, Rutsiro, and Karongi were among the hardest hit. Flooding displaced 9,000 people and destroyed or damaged at least 7,600 homes, 17 roads, 26 bridges, 50 schools, and a medical facility. Severe weather also affected crops and agricultural land, in addition to power and water infrastructure; local authorities estimate that repairs to the damaged infrastructure would cost nearly USD 100 million. In the neighboring DRC, flash floods and landslides swept through the eastern province of South Kivu, killing more than 400 people in several villages; Bushushu and Nyuamukubi were the hardest hit. At least 5,500 people remain missing, and the full extent of property and infrastructure damage remains unclear. However, media reports indicate that flooding destroyed entire villages along with fields, crops, and livestock. Some main roads in impacted areas remain impassable, hindering relief and rescue operations. While heavy rains are common in both Rwanda and the DRC between March and May, there has been an increase in flood-related disasters on the African continent over the last 30 years attributed to global climate change. While no additional storms are forecast for the eastern DRC in the coming days, the recent rains raised the water table regionwide, increasing the likelihood of flooding and landslides; the neighboring North Kivu province has recorded two landslides since May 8 that killed 16 people. The Rwandan National Meteorological Center has forecast additional heavy rains throughout the month of May, which will likely trigger further property and infrastructure damage and hamper ongoing disaster relief efforts.