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Forecast Podcast: Netherlands eases restrictions, Tunisia protest, Germany’s election, North Korea legislature, Australia-UK-US security pact

Thousands of demonstrators gather in Tunis to protest against President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers in July 2021.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:

Show notes:

  • Most social distancing measures will be dropped in the Netherlands starting Saturday, as the country moves to a “health pass” system requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for entry into various venues.
  • Opposition is mounting against Tunisian President Kais Saied after he extended indefinitely the “exceptional measures” he took in July that effectively consolidated all power in his hands. Protesters are planning to hold rallies Saturday after the first major demonstration took place in Tunis last week.
  • The race continues between the centre-right’s CDU and the centre-left’s SPD in the final few days before German voters head to the polls Sunday to decide on a new Chancellor to replace Angela Merkel as she steps down after 16 years in power.
  • North Korea will hold a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly on Tuesday to discuss education and the national economic plan, according to state media.
  • Australia-U.K.-U.S. security pact — an interview with Factal Editor Alex Moore.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Ahmed Namatalla, Lara von der Brelie, Imana Gunawan and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Transcript:

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 September 23rd.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got The Netherlands easing coronavirus-related restrictions, protests in Tunisia, Germany’s federal election, a meeting of North Korea’s legislature, and a look at the historic security pact between the US, the UK and Australia. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter. You can find a link to that in the show notes.

The Netherlands eases coronavirus restrictions

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Most social distancing measures will be dropped in The Netherlands starting Saturday. Instead, the country is moving to a “health pass” system requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for entry into various venues, including bars, restaurants and cultural events.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the decision last week, following similar mandates in several other European countries

Dutch opposition figures, however, have criticized the idea of linking access to vaccination status, claiming the requirement essentially makes the shots mandatory for all. 

As for vaccination rates in the country, around 80 percent of those aged 12 and up are considered fully vaccinated, while 86 percent of those 18 and older have received at least one dose.

Now, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the use of the vaccination “health pass” will be “as temporary as possible,” but declined to give a firm end date. 

Meanwhile the onus on enforcement will fall on venues, with local officials in major cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam saying they don’t have the manpower to keep close tabs on compliance. 

Finally, protests have erupted in countries implementing similar mandates, and it is possible that The Netherlands could see similar unrest.

Tunisia protests

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Protesters in Tunisia are planning to hold rallies Saturday after the first major demonstration took place in the capital city Tunis just last week. 

Opposition is mounting against Tunisian President Kais Saied after he extended indefinitely the “exceptional measures” he took in July that effectively consolidated all power in his hands.

He suspended parliament, fired the prime minister and imposed house arrest on dozens of politicians. And he did all of this under the guise of fighting corruption and overcoming the economic and political dysfunction that have plagued Tunisia since the 2011 uprising. It was that uprising that initiated the so-called Arab Spring. 

Now, earlier this week, Saied, without providing specifics, told supporters that he’s put in place new governing rules and is moving forward with a new elections law.

And now he,  and his relationship with the country’s military, is being tested by popular discontent that has mostly been absent since his seizure of power. 

Of course, unlike other North African countries that experienced unrest, Tunisian security forces have so far used non-lethal means to contain demonstrations. 

Still, the size of this Saturday’s protest could pressure Saied to speed up his transition, or embolden him to take more unilateral actions if turnout is perceived to reflect weak opposition.

German federal elections

Information compiled by Lara von der Brelie

JIMMY: German voters will head to the polls Sunday to decide on a new Chancellor. They’ll be choosing a replacement for Angela Merkel as she steps down after 16 years in power.

It appears to be a tight race at the moment between the centre-right Christian Democratic Union party and the centre-left Social Democratic Party. 

As you may recall, Merkel’s CDU party suffered its worst result in more than 55 years in 2017 when Germany’s far-right AfD party won 13 percent of the vote and entered the Bundestag. 

Now, while the other parties have vowed to not work with the anti-immigrant party after Sunday’s results, the CDU has again lost the advantage it held only a few weeks ago. 

The SPD currently leads the way with 25 percent, while the CDU holds a 22 percent share and the Greens only 16 percent. 

Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ first-ever Chancellor candidate, has pulled back significantly in the race after briefly leading in the polls back in May.

Some pundits have predicted a coalition between the SPD, the Greens and the business-friendly FDP. That is, if the SPD’s candidate — who is also Germany’s current finance minister and vice chancellor — maintains his lead on Sunday. 

Others, however, are not convinced following comments by the FDP’s Christian Lindner suggesting that he had little in common with the two parties other than the legalization of cannabis. 

Finally, if the CDU’s Armin Laschet tops the polls, many have predicted an alliance between the Greens, the FDP and the CDU.

North Korea to convene meeting of legislature

Information compiled by Imana Gunawan

JIMMY: North Korea will hold a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly on Tuesday to discuss education and the national economic plan. That is, of course, according to state media.

The Assembly’s standing committee met in Pyongyang back in August to set the session’s date and discussion items. 

The assembly is expected to address the country’s recent emphasis on ideological education for youth, rooting out non-socialist practices and a new economic development scheme focusing on self-reliance after fallout from global sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. 

The assembly will also reportedly discuss “organizational issues” following the recent reshuffle of top officials of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

Now, despite being North Korea’s top legislative body, the assembly does not practice independent decision-making but insteads generally rubber-stamps decisions made by the ruling party. 

Still, analysts say statements and state media reports from the session can often give clues on organizational shakeups, budgetary priorities and even foreign policy decisions. 

The assembly session comes at the heels of the country’s test of new long-range cruise missiles and South Korea’s development of its supersonic cruise missile.

Australia-U.K.-U.S. security pact

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Hi, Alex.

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Alright, Alex, you’re kind of our in-house international security expert so I’m hoping you can help explain this security pact. Obviously we know who’s involved, which countries are involved, but what exactly is it?

ALEX: So, in a pretty momentous announcement last week, the US, UK and Australia announced a pact that binds together the respective defense industries of these countries. Most notably, immediately the pact, which is referred to as AUKUS, is going to assist Australia in the pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines — emphasis on nuclear power, not nuclear armed, in an effort to bolster Australia’s naval presence, which is ostensibly to counter China.

JIMMY: The pact is being called historic. Is it?

ALEX: Yes, indeed. It sent ripples throughout Asia’s geopolitical landscape as well as the international arms industry. Such assistance is fairly unprecedented and goes to show the extent to which Washington and Canberra both perceive China as a threat. When I say fairly unprecedented, it’s only ever happened once before back in the 50s when the US proliferated this technology to the UK. Among China’s various weaknesses in the warfighting domain, undersea warfare is perhaps the most prominent one. So Australia’s decision to invoke the ire of Beijing with this procurement shows just how much their bilateral ties have spiraled over the last three to four years with China’s economic coercion.

JIMMY: It seems as though the international community has kind of had a bit of a mixed reaction to this new pact. Can you explain why that is?

ALEX: Yeah, there are a couple reasons. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison went to very great lengths in the announcement to make clear that Australia will continue to not operate civil nuclear sites and is not seeking nuclear weapons as a Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory. Nonetheless, China is obviously very unhappy. The submarines and their long-range strike capabilities of the conventional nature, that Australia has already announced they’re seeking to equip the submarines with, only add to what is already a very simmering arms race in the Asia-Pacific between, all various countries from China to South Korea to Japan. So this only adds to that.

JIMMY: What should folks be watching for in the future with this pact?

ALEX: Yeah, the non-proliferation impacts are interesting. Australia is becoming pretty much the first country to exploit a loophole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty that enables you to operate nuclear-powered submarines on weapons-grade, highly-enriched uranium without international safeguards that would normally be in place on such material. So other US allies, notably South Korea and Japan — South Korea, who famously actually had a nuclear weapons program a few decades ago — they could logically ask what differentiates them from China for such cooperation because those two operate diesel-electric subs and the US has come out and said that this is specific to Australia. So that could potentially irk the likes of Japan and South Korea. And of course, there’s the French. The agreement nullified a large, very lucrative pre-existing deal that France inked with Australia a couple years back for submarines and Paris is not happy to put it lightly. They even took the extraordinary measure of withdrawing its ambassadors from the US and Australia. Though, Biden and Macron have just announced that they are going to meet in person in October and by next week the ambassador will return to Washington. So, the US is playing the game of apologizing to the French to try to assuage their anger.

JIMMY: Well, I suppose we won’t really know the full impact from this agreement for quite some time. But thanks for laying it all out there for us. I appreciate the insight.

ALEX: Yeah, no problem. Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Ahmed Namatalla, Lara von der Brelie and Imana Gunawan. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top photo: Thousands of demonstrators gather in Tunis to protest against President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers in July 2021. Source: TRT World