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Forecast: Protests erupt over deadly train collision in Greece, Indian court hears arguments on same-sex marriage, and Japan ends indoor mask mandate

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Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

Week of March 10-17
A Look Ahead

March 10 – China’s legislature to vote on new cabinet, state reform 

With China’s “Two Sessions” already underway, the National People’s Congress is expected to begin voting on new leadership and a fresh set of institutional reforms starting Friday, including Xi Jinping’s virtually-guaranteed third term as president.

What’s happened so far 
Since the Two Sessions began last Sunday, China has made several key policy announcements, setting a relatively modest economic growth target for this year at around 5 percent, and boosting defense spending by about 7 percent. China’s foreign minister also made an unusually direct statement criticizing the United States’ containment strategy at a press conference during the Two Sessions, warning that if the U.S. continues it could lead to “conflict and confrontation.”

The impact 
Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as president, and soon after Li Qiang is poised to be confirmed as premier by the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress. Other top government positions will also be confirmed, including vice premiers, state councilors and ministers. Details are sparse, but the National People’s Congress will also deliberate on financial and social institution reforms proposed by the State Council. 

March 13 – Japan ends indoor mask mandate 

Indoor mask-wearing in Japan will become voluntary on Monday as the government continues to ease restrictions imposed in the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s happened so far 
Japan’s current guidance recommends people wear masks in all indoor settings — although this is not legally binding, compliance is high. From Monday, the choice will be down to the public, although the government will continue to suggest people wear a mask if they are suffering from symptoms of coronavirus. Experts predict mask-wearing will remain commonplace as the public has become acclimated, while some businesses will continue to require employees to wear a mask in the workplace.

The impact 
The mask change comes ahead of a wider policy shift on May 8, which will see coronavirus downgraded to the same category of diseases such as seasonal flu. This will mean an end to all quarantine periods and reduced funding for the pandemic response, as Japan attempts to catch up with other countries in rebooting its economy

March 13 – Scotland’s SNP party leader vote begins 

Members of the Scottish National Party, the pro-independence governing party in Scotland, will begin the process of voting for its next leader from noon on Monday.

What’s happened so far 
Nicola Sturgeon shocked the country in February when she unexpectedly announced her intention to resign, citing personal reasons, drawing to a close her eight-year tenure as first minister of Scotland. The move immediately set off speculation on who would succeed her, with three candidates qualifying for the ballot: Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and lawmaker Ash Regan. 

The impact 
After two weeks of voting, the winning candidate is expected to be named on March 27, setting the stage for the transfer of power. Sturgeon will submit her resignation to King Charles and a vote will take place in the Scottish Parliament to replace her as first minister, with the presiding officer sending that outcome for royal approval.

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March 13 – India court to hear arguments on legalizing same-sex marriage 

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court will listen to various petitions to allow same-sex couples to marry. 

What’s happened so far 
The petitions argue that same-sex couples should be included within various marriage edicts, including the Special Marriage Act, after the Supreme Court redirected the cases from local and regional courts. India’s country’s highest court has made strides in LGBTQ+ rights, decriminalizing sexual intercourse between gay couples and allowing legal recognition and rights for a separate “third” gender for those that identify as transgender or non-binary.

The impact 
If same-sex marriage is legalized in India, it would be the most populated country to do so. The Supreme Court has had a track record of being susceptible to change, especially with so much of the younger population already accepting LGBTQ+ rights across the board. The underlying issue, though, is the divide between the Supreme Court and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) paired with both Hindu and Muslim sentiment, who are publicly opposed to the legalization. The petitions primarily tackle the wording of the various marriage laws, but it’s yet to be seen how the Supreme Court will respond to those. 

March 14 – North Carolina Supreme Court hears case on voting maps

North Carolina’s Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday to overturn a 2022 case that prohibited state legislatures from having full control over electoral map drawing. 

What’s happened so far 
The drawing of North Carolina’s electoral districts was first addressed in 2019’s Rucho v. Common Cause, which allowed partisan gerrymandering on the grounds that it was out of the court’s jurisdiction. The current case, Moore v. Harper, concerns the post-2020 census map. In its first appearance at the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Democratic majority justices shot down the map drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, claiming it underrepresented Black voters. During the litigation, the Republicans relied on independent state legislature theory, a legal framework that believes legislatures should have complete administrative control over elections. These theories were then presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard an appeal of the case on Dec. 7, 2022. An opinion has not yet been handed down. 

The impact 
After Republicans won the North Carolina Supreme Court last year, the justices made the largely unprecedented decision to rehear Moore v. Harper. It is unclear if this state level appeal will be necessary, as the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the decision before the state has a chance to. If the law is struck down, it would be a major win for independent state legislature theory and gerrymandering. The changes to the electoral process that could arise from Moore v. Harper are so drastic that former federal judge Michael Luttig called it “the single most important case on American democracy — and for American democracy — in the nation’s history.”

March 15 – UK civil servants strike

Thousands of unionized public sector workers in the United Kingdom will walk out on Wednesday amid dispute over pay, pensions and job security.

What’s happened so far 
This industrial action is part of an ongoing row over pay conditions aggravated by inflation. Union leaders are asking for a 10 percent rise in wages to match inflation rates and a living wage of at least £15 per hour nationwide, as well as a London weighting payment to reflect the enhanced costs of working at the capital. The campaign also includes demands to reduce employee contribution rates for pensions by 2 percent and to maintain redundancy terms amid the cost of living crisis. These demands have been met with resistance from the government, with officials offering up to a 3 percent salary increase alongside claims that the unions’ requests are “unaffordable.”

The impact 
The strike is expected to affect multiple public bodies like HM Revenue and Customs, the border force, Ofsted, the Care and Quality Commission, and the Welsh government, with prospects that more than 150,000 staff will join the action. This day of protest also coincides with Budget Day, as government officials face claims that they’ve rejected to set a negotiating table with worker’s representatives.

What Else Matters

Dozens of people march a long a city street. They are carrying a banner with writing in Greek.
Protesters march on Wednesday in Athens, Greece, days after a train collision left at least 57 people dead and dozens others injured. (Photo: NikosLikomitros / Wikimedia Commons)

Protests over deadly train collision in Greece 

Large protests have erupted in Athens after a train collision in Larissa left at least 57 people dead and dozens others injured on Feb. 28. The incident, the deadliest rail accident in the country, exposed issues with the railway’s operating conditions, with unions accusing the government of failing to improve the security and staffing of the network for years. The widespread protests, demanding better safety standards, became violent last week after demonstrators fired petrol bombs at Greek police, leaving multiple officers injured.

Watch for: At the time of the collision, the train was packed with university students going back to Thessaloniki after a holiday weekend. While the government blames the accident on a “tragic human error,” labor unions, student associations and the general public have blamed years of under-investment in the country’s railway system. Railway workers are demanding proper training programs, maintenance and repair of equipment and safer work and security measures. Meanwhile, more protests and strikes are expected to continue over the coming weeks as pressure mounts for the government to take action. While most protests are expected to be peaceful, more violent incidents could continue to erupt on the sidelines of rallies as tensions rise. The incident also led to the resignation of the transport minister, with his replacement pledging to investigate the incident, modernize the railway system and improve safety.

Deadly clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh 

Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region that has been the battleground for multiple wars escalated over the weekend. Russian peacekeepers were forced to intervene after three Armenia-backed Artsakh region police officers were killed and two Azerbaijani soldiers died following a shootout. Baku claimed its forces intervened to stop a vehicle smuggling weapons into the Atsakh-controlled portion of the region, which Armenia-backed authorities denied, calling the shooting an ambush perpetrated by Azerbaijani sabotage units. 

Watch for: Since the conclusion of the intense six-week war of 2020 over Nagorno-Karabakh, violence has periodically spilled over between the two sides, most notably in September 2022 when border clashes erupted along multiple fronts, leaving hundreds killed. The shootout comes as tensions remain high as a de-facto Azerbaijani blockade of Artsakh-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh approaches its fourth month. Since Dec. 12, Azerbaijani “eco-activists” have blocked the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Armenia to Artsakh-controlled territory. The blockages have left 120,000 residents of Artsakh without vital supplies, and Azerbaijan has also repeatedly disrupted the flow of gas to the region. With an imminent de-escalation of the blockade seemingly out of reach, fears of intensified fighting between the two sides are ever-present.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

March 10-17 

March 10

  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to visit France for British-French summit
  • China parliament to vote on state reform plan, new Cabinet 
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discusses clean energy and supply chains with President Joe Biden

March 11

  • Nigeria governorship and state assembly elections

March 13

  • Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change meets in Switzerland
  • Eurogroup meeting
  • Junior doctors in England strike
  • Scotland’s SNP party leader vote begins
  • India’s highest court to hear arguments on whether to legalize same-sex marriage 
  • Japan ends indoor mask mandate
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk to visit Uzbekistan
  • Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides visits Athens

March 14

  • EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting
  • North Carolina court reviews election case 

March 15

  • British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt presents the UK government’s budget
  • UK civil servants strike

March 16

  • New Czech President Petr Pavel to visit Poland
  • France’s Hollande and Sarkozy to be questioned by National Assembly commission on energy sovereignty
  • EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Council meeting

March 17 

  • OSCE foreign ministers to meet in Vienna, Austria
  • EU-Republic of North Macedonia Stabilisation and Association Council meeting

March 18-24 

March 18 

  • Black Sea grain deal expires

March 19 

  • Kazakh House of Representatives election
  • Montenegro referendum election
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to visit India

March 20

  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting
  • Voter registration begins in Liberia

March 21

  • EU General Affairs Council meeting

March 23

  • TikTok CEO testifies before U.S. Congress
  • European Council meeting

March 25-31 

March 25 

  • New South Wales state election

March 26

  • Turkmenistan National Assembly election
  •  King Charles visits France

March 27

  • Malaysian prime minister Anwar Ibrahim visits Cambodia

March 28

  • Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping
  • ASEAN+3 Finance and Central Bank Deputies’ meeting

March 29

  • Nigeria census
  • Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov to visit Israel

March 30

  • Palestine Land Day

April 1-7 

April 2

  • Bulgaria elections
  • Finnish Parliament election

April 4

  • NATO foreign ministers to meet in Brussels

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