September 2019 CoupCast Update

Syria, Tunisia and Turkey face the highest risk of a military coup attempt this month. Sudan, Burkina Faso and Syria face the highest risk until the end of the year. Algeria, Guinea-Bissau and Venezuela remain in the top-10 at risk as well.

CoupCast is a machine learning based early warning forecasting platform for estimating the risk of illegal leadership turnover each month for every country across the globe. These updates provide insight into technical changes/updates, notable events in the previous month, and a more in-depth overview of what to expect in the new month coming forward.

The official web dashboard for CoupCast can be found here and information regarding the underlying data (REIGN) and updates to our monthly data can be found here.

Feel free to reach out to Clayton Besaw (cbesaw@oneearthfuture.org) for any questions regarding our CoupCast platform or analyses contained in the updates.

Global relative risk of a coup attempt for September 2019. Source: CoupCast

September 2019 CoupCast Report

Data and Algorithm Updates!

Only a few updates regarding the training data this month.

  1. Hotfix implemented to detect and correct “blank” country names in the first month of tenure for the following leaders: De Roburt (Nauru), Nakyama (Micronesia), Pashinyan (Armenia), da Costa (Sao Tome), Lini (Vanautu), Remeliik (Paulau). Hotfix will dynamically fix any problems with missing country names for future leaders.
  2. Updated precipitation (SPI) estimates using NOAA’s July 2019 PREC/L release (https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/gridded/data.prel.html).

Risk Forecast for September 2019

Some changes have taken lace in the month of September according to CoupCast. Syria has taken the top spot while Tunisia and Turkey have risen to the top-3 for the first time this year.

Syria has been in the top-10 for both the monthly and annual forecast since earlier this summer, so their continued rise is not necessarily a surprise. Economic issues and ongoing political violence seem to drive CoupCast’s bullish take on Syrian coup risk.

Regardless, it is probably best to be skeptical of CoupCast this time around. CoupCast cannot account for the geo-political reality facing Assad at the moment. His regime has remained more-or-less stable and he has the support of two powerful regional powers (Russia and Iran).

I’d expect that real coup risk could rise given a change in regional power support given the precarious nature of both the economic and security situation.

Coup risk in Tunisia has risen over the past two months due to the death of president Essebsi and the call for an early presidential election. Leadership change and irregular election announcements are strong triggers for CoupCast.

An increasingly precarious security situation alongside poor economic performance since 2014 are also likely to have played a role in Tunisia’s relative rise to the top-10.

This short term bump in coup risk is not surprising given the considerably strong relationship between elections and coup risk in the historical record.

One potential risk point that the Islamic democratic party Ennahda has decided to run a presidential candidate for the first time, something that was previously seen as taboo in the lurch towards secular democratic politics. It could be possible that the military would intervene given a candidate they see as hostile.

However, Sharan Grewal points out that this potential argument is more nuanced than simply Islamist politics vs secular politics alone. Check out his informative take below:

Given what we know. Unless something truly surprising happens during the election (think egregious delays or catastrophic security event), expect the military to maintain its neutrality in domestic politics and for CoupCast to go bearish on Tunisia going forward.

Finally, Turkey has taken its place in the top-3 for the first time this year. Recent regime type coding on our part alongside new information about border province security issues is causing CoupCast to be generally more bullish on risk in Turkey. Turkey also faces an on-going economic downturn that is being noticed by CoupCast and the domestic electorate alike.

Combining these issues with a coup prone history is likely to place the country firmly in the top-10 for the foreseeable future.

Like Syria though, Turkey’s coup risk in reality is likely not as high as other perennial contenders such as Sudan, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau. Their place in regional power politics and projection of military power into Syria play two roles in depressing coup risk against Erdogan.

It is unlikely that foreign powers will push hard on regime change in Turkey given the current political environment and the military is preoccupied with a “quagmire”-like situation regarding a potential military enforced safe zone on the Syrian side of the border. Turkey is also likely to launch a third, and possibly permanent, military incursion into Syria in an attempt to create the safe zone as a result.

Given the high profile nature of the Syrian conflict, it would be difficult for important military decision makers to turn inward during the current operational environment.

Takeaway points for September

  • Syria and Turkey have risen into the top-3 due to a combination of security issues and economic issues, but their estimated risk is likely being inflated by CoupCast given the current military and geo-political environments both countries operate in.
  • Tunisia has seen a spike in coup risk due to leadership turnover and an irregular election announcement.
  • Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Algeria and Venezuela remain steady in the top-10 each month.
  • Sudan is still number one in terms of annual risk by far. Expect risk to slowly decrease if the current political climate remains consistent into 2020. A lot of things can happen during the transition process and it is not yet clear how unified military leadership is regarding the new arrangements to hand over power to civilian leadership over the 39 month transitional period.

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Clayton Besaw

Clayton Besaw

Research Associate at One Earth Future. Political violence, instability, forecasting, machine learning.