Quartz Daily Brief—Europe and Africa edition—Singapore elections, Uber’s labor battle, mermaid bars

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

What to watch for today

Singapore votes in its most competitive election ever. Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party is expected to win, as it has done for the past 50 years. But rivals are making a stronger-than-ever showing, with bloggers and other citizens increasingly voicing concerns about Singapore’s opaque finances.

China’s tit-for-tat military drills near Taiwan. Beijing announced live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait, a day after the Taiwanese military rehearsed repelling a Chinese invasion. Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou wore a helmet and flak jacket to the staging area.

NATO talks about Syria, Russia, and Afghanistan. The alliance’s military committee convenes in Istanbul to discuss security in Europe, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Turkey’s controversial dual offensive against ISIL and Kurdish separatists is sure to be a touchy subject.

Avon weighs up some suiters. The direct-sales giant is fielding pitches from private equity firms Cerberus Capital Management and Platinum Equity, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall), as it struggles to bounce back from years of sales declines.

While you were sleeping

Obama agreed to a tiny increase in the number of Syrian refugees. The United States is preparing to accept “at least” 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, though that is only a slight increase from the 5,000 to 8,000 the US floated in August. Over the course of the civil war, which has driven out 4 million people, the US has resettled just 1,434 Syrians.

Another big pharma merger came on the cards. Actelion, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, is in early talks to buy ZS Pharma for around $2.5 billion. The US target currently has no revenue but has drugs pending with the Food and Drug Administration. Actelion hopes to acquire companies to diversify from its reliance on its core heart drug Tracleer.

South Korea left its interest rate unchanged. The central bank kept its base rate at 1.5%, after cutting the cost of borrowing four times in the past year. Lower interest rates ought to help an economy that faces weakening demand for exports and was hit by an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome during the summer.

The US Federal Reserve got another reason not to raise rates. New data showed import and export prices both sank to their lowest levels since the financial crisis. A falling oil price in particular is making inflation projections difficult, and will complicate the Fed’s decision on when to raise interest rates.

Japanese businesses got positive. A survey of large companies found that more are confident about business conditions in the next quarter than are negative. It’s good news for an economy that’s struggling to hit a 2% inflation target and is exposed to China’s slowdown and weak export demand.

Uber lost a labor battle. A California employment commission shot down the ride-hailing giant’s appeal against a decision that stated its drivers are employees. That could have costly repercussions for Uber, which saves on labor costs by claiming its drivers are contractors.

Quartz obsession interlude

Annalisa Merelli on how Apple almost went feminist, only to horribly fail. “Apple’s event may have indeed been the Silicon Valley equivalent of a feminist rally… But then in Apple’s live demonstration, a young woman’s serious-looking expression was remade into a welcoming one. Spectators in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium cheered as they watched it happen.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Workers should embrace the 9-to-5 job. It once symbolized drudgery, but now it’s a necessary boundary.

Rupert Murdoch will be great for National Geographic. Fox News is more likely to change than the venerable science magazine.

Seed banks are humanity’s insurance policy. Preserving samples of precious crops is crucial as the world faces climate change.

The world has seen this kind of refugee crisis before. After the Vietnam war, millions were saved by resettlement.

Black celebrities should embrace “the rant.” Artists like Kanye West deserve to be heard, no matter how the media distorts things.

Surprising discoveries

Elon Musk wants to nuke Mars. He argues it’s the fastest way to warm the planet to make it habitable by humans.

Cavemen ate oatmeal. So Paleo dieters can eat it, too.

The US has around 1,000 professional mermaids. There are even bars dedicated to mermaid shows.

Emails are more romantic than voicemails. When expressing feelings from afar, typing may be better.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, mermaid costumes, and romantic emails to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief here, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe & Africa, and the Americas.