Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Irene Villora discuss the protests underway in Venezuela, plus more on parliamentary elections in Tunisia, Hong Kong scrapping its COVID quarantine rule, pension reform strikes in France and civil servants striking in the UK.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Hua Hsieh, Sophie Perryer, Jimmy Lovaas and Irene Villora. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is January 26.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got parliamentary elections in Tunisia, Hong Kong scrapping its coronavirus quarantine rule, pension reform strikes in France, civil servants striking in the UK and a look at the protests underway in Venezuela.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Second round of parliamentary elections in Tunisia
Information compiled by Agnese Boffano
JIMMY: Tunisia will hold its second round of elections this Sunday, though participation is expected to be low.
As you may recall, Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved parliament and announced he would dismiss the government on the country’s Republic Day in July 2021.
That move saw thousands of anti-government demonstrators marching against what they believed to be a “coup,” despite Tunisia often being labeled as the only “success” of the Arab Spring movement.
And it was just late last month, Saied again extended the country’s state of emergency until the end of January, which rights groups argue is being used to clamp down on activists and political opponents.
Finally, there’s also an electoral law change Saied announced in September. It diminishes the role of political parties and has analysts arguing that it provides the president with “wide-ranging powers before, during, and after the vote.”
Now, according to Tunisian election officials, the turnout for the first round of voting fell short of reaching 9 percent.
The new body is not expected to be sworn in until March.
Hong Kong to scrap COVID-19 isolation rules
Information compiled by Hua Hsieh
JIMMY: Hong Kong will drop its mandatory quarantine rule for people infected with coronavirus on Monday. That change comes as the city continues the gradual relaxation of restrictions.
For the last three years of the pandemic, Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s zero-COVID policy, imposing a strict entry rule and social distancing regulations.
Currently, those infected are required to quarantine at home for five days and can only go out if they test negative for two consecutive days.
According to government records, 83 percent of the city’s population is vaccinated with three doses of vaccine, while 93 percent are vaccinated with two.
Chief Executive John Lee said the population now has a strong "immunity barrier,” so the city will follow China’s footsteps to return to normalcy.
Now, after reopening the border with China, canceling entry restrictions and now scrapping quarantine rules, the mask mandate is now the only major restriction left in Hong Kong.
While some were concerned that the mass movement of people during Lunar New Year could cause a spike in infection rate, it’s unclear whether that has yet come to fruition.
Many also see the relaxation as a chance to revive the city’s pandemic-hit economy.
Second day of France strikes
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: French unions have called for a second day of mobilization Tuesday. The strikes are against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform proposals.
The government formally presented its plans to the Council of Ministers on Jan. 23, including the flagship policy of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. That suggested change has been roundly rejected by unions, the opposition and much of the public.
Now, demonstrations are expected in Paris and other major cities. Some workers are also expected to strike during the preceding week.
France’s National Assembly will begin debating the reform legislation on Feb. 6, coinciding with a call for a 72-hour strike by major unions.
The Assembly must vote within 50 days and the government intends to implement the legislation by early summer.
U.K. civil servants strike
Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas
JIMMY: An estimated 100,000 British civil servants are set to participate in a one-day strike on Wednesday. It’s part of a dispute over pay and working conditions.
Negotiations are likely to continue to stall as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims raising public sector wages will fuel inflation.
Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union leader Mark Serwotka, however, argues the government is treating its own workforce “worse than anyone else in the economy,” not negotiating and thus forcing the union to strike.
Now, the strike coincides with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) national day of action.
It also comes after a failed round of talks between unions and Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin.
Finally, a wide swath of services in the U.K. are likely to be impacted. The PCS union said members will walk out of work from at least 124 government departments and other bodies.
The union also said an additional 33,000 members in five more government departments are re-balloting and could join the strike action.
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the demonstrations that have broken out in Venezuela. For more on that I spoke with fellow editor Irene Villora.
JIMMY: Hello, Irene.
IRENE: Hi, Jimmy.
JIMMY: So glad you're here. Hoping you can fill us in on the recent protests in Venezuela. I guess to start – well, when did they start? And do we know what's fueling them?
IRENE: Well, yes, of course. Venezuelan public sector workers and pensioners, and just professionals from other economic sectors, have started protesting daily across the country since January 9, more or less, to protest against the lack of purchasing power because of the skyrocketing inflation that the country is seeing and also to demand a raise in wages and pensions. Basically, protesters are complaining that their salaries are not enough to afford things like the basic food basket.
JIMMY: ‘Skyrocketing inflation’ sure doesn't sound good. Just how bad is it?
IRENE: Well, the inflation in Venezuela closed 2022 at more than 300%. That brought the worth of the minimum wage, which is currently 130 bolívares, down to around $7. To provide you with some context, the Venezuelan finance watchdog said that a Venezuelan family needs more than 50 minimum wages to cover a basic food shop.
JIMMY: What has the government's response been?
IRENE: So, President Maduro has blamed the current crisis on international sanctions on the country and he participated as well in counter protests organized by his party. This wave of protest also comes in a period of political disenchantment among the population. We have deflated opposition and negotiations underway between Maduro's administration and representatives of the dissidents, in which they are aiming to achieve a degree of democratic legitimacy. And also, the Maduro government is trying to achieve lifting of some of the sanctions.
JIMMY: You know, it seems like the protests have been mostly peaceful. Is that accurate?
IRENE: Yeah, so protesters have staged mostly peaceful demonstrations with some road blockades and rallies near government buildings and only a few violent incidents have been reported in relation to this really. There were a few demonstrators arrested after trespassing metal factories in the north of the country, but that's been about it so far.
JIMMY: Well, I guess my big question for you then is what do you think folks should be watching for next?
IRENE: So I think the next things to watch for are the calls for strikes. Educators have called an indefinite strike already until their demands are met. And I don't discard that we could see other groups join the strike movement. Also, national and international media have reported that the so-called armed collectives, which are groups of armed civilians that are trained by the regime to infiltrate opposition protests – they have done it traditionally – have threatened some protesters on social media if they continue with the demonstrations and the strike options. Also, something really interesting about this new wave of protests is that some sectors that were traditionally affiliated with the government have joined the movement, which is a new challenge to Maduro's administration, and it shows the weakening of traditional political movements in the country.
JIMMY: Well, Irene, I think we will stop there for today, but as always, I thank you for your time and appreciate you're catching us up to speed.
IRENE: Thanks for having me.
JIMMY: Take care.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Hua Hsieh, Sophie Perryer and me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our interview featured editor Irene Villora and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe