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Pop Star Vies to Upend Bulgarian Politics in Do-Over Election – Bloomberg

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A late-night talk-show host and performer of the Balkan analog of gangster rap is itching to end the run of one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders in a Bulgarian election do-over.

Stanislav Trifonov, a pop-folk singer known as “Slavi,” has been railing against inequality and corruption even before Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. He’s tapping into discontent among voters fed up with the bloc’s lowest living standards and endless scandals among the elite.

Pledging to wipe out a “mafia model” he says gives oligarchs with ties to organized crime sway over politics, his anti-establishment There Is Such a People party won more support than expected in an initial ballot in April.

That blocked the Gerb party of then-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who first took power in 2009, from a fourth term. But it resulted in a hung parliament, triggering a re-run that takes place Sunday with the two front-runners neck and neck.

“What Gerb has done is unimaginable, unacceptable,” Trifonov, who’s been compared to other entertainers-turned-politicians, such as former comedians Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in May. “It should be scratched out.”

Neck and Neck

Parties of folk singer and ex-PM battle to win Bulgarian elections

Source: Trend poll of 1,002 people, conducted July 3-7

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Transparency International has ranked the country last in the EU for most of the past decade in its Corruption Perception Index. Bulgaria, the bloc’s poorest member with living standards of about half of the EU average, has also drawn criticism for failing to uphold the rule of law and has been kept out of the passport-free travel Schengen zone.

Trifonov, 54, and Borissov, 62, both grew up poor, rising to prominence during a transition from communism that brought hyperinflation, bank runs, poverty, bloody gang wars and nationwide protests.

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They both started outside politics: Borissov as a bodyguard for Bulgaria’s last communist dictator and Trifonov as a crooner who filled stadiums from London to Los Angeles. With shaved heads and black leather jackets, both embraced the tough-guy image.

Borissov bolstered that perception as a hard-talking policeman and mayor of the capital, Sofia. Trifonov, meanwhile, helped popularize the “chalga” music style that melds Balkan folk with pop, It became popular in the 1990s for lyrics depicting life on the streets but was also derided for glorifying crime, chauvinism and flashy wealth.

As Borissov’s political rise continued, Trifonov went on to host Bulgaria’s most-popular late-night talk show, where guests included Mikhail Gorbachev. He now runs his own channel, whose programs have flirted with anti-immigrant positions, anti-vaccination theories and conspiracies.

In his hit “There Is No Such State,” whose title inspired his party’s name, Trifonov sings: “Aren’t you tired of living so poorly? How long will we stay quiet?”

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Slavi Trifonov during a concert as part of his campaigning for a referendum on political issues, in Sofia.
Photographer: NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP

Borissov, dogged by scandals and criticized for failing to improve Bulgaria’s record on corruption, was replaced in April after other parties refused to join a new coalition government. The interim administration that took charge has struggled to roll out immunizations — just 12% of the population is fully vaccinated,  the least in the EU — and demand for shots has evaporated. Gerb has since lost support.

Both Borissov and Trifonov say they favor deepening ties with the EU, though each has signaled resistance to the bloc’s efforts to open membership talks with neighboring North Macedonia, citing long-standing historical disputes.

Borissov wants Bulgaria to adopt the euro by 2024. Trifonov wants the currency too, but his adviser Toshko Yordanov, deputy chairman of There Is Such a People, warns against any “premature” move. “The euro zone is great for rich countries,” he said. “Bulgaria isn’t a rich country.”

Borissov hasn’t specified whether he’ll demand the prime minister’s job if his party triumphs or who he’d favor as coalition partners. Trifonov, who isn’t running for parliament himself, has said it’s not his goal to become premier. He’s potentially better placed to form a ruling coalition. His most-likely allies include two anti-corruption parties, though the three together may struggle to clinch a majority in parliament.

All mainstream parties refuse to work with Gerb, creating an enormous hurdle for Borissov to clinch a new term. But Gerb Deputy Chairman Tomislav Donchev isn’t ruling anything out.

“That’s the natural political model — the leader of the political party that won the election is nominated for prime minister,” Donchev said in June. But “it all depends on a number of factors.”

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    Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times

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    The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

    LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

    Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

    “Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

    Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

    Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

    Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

    On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

    “The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

    The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

    Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

    The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

    “Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

    Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

    Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

    The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

    Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

    But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

    That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

    By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

    Max Rossi/Reuters

    Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

    Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

    But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

    But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

    With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

    Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

    The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

    Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

    Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

    But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

    Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

    Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

    Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

    He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

    “They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

    Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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    Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters

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    A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

    PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

    Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

    Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

    Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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    Independent MP Derek Sloan hopes his new political party ‘excites’ Canadians about politics – Global News

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    Independent MP for Hastings Lennox and Addington, Derek Sloan, has confirmed to Global News that he is in the process of trying to launch his own political party. The MP says it will be called the “True North” party, pending Elections Canada Approval.

    “I think Canadians are disenfranchised with the current political landscape, and I’m hoping to excite Canadians about politics and about Canada and to really get people happy again about Canada and hopeful,” said Sloan.

    A spokesperson for Elections Canada said that they are working to ensure all requirements under the Canada Elections Act are met, in order for Sloan’s party to become official.

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    Tory caucus to meet Wednesday to determine fate of MP Derek Sloan

    In the meantime, Sloan has been spending time outside of his riding during the pandemic, making a number of trips to Western Canada.

    Sloan explained that his travels are necessary in order to promote his “movement” on a national scale.

    “Right now I believe for the sake of our riding, I need to sort of boost the popularity of this movement across the country,” said Sloan.

    Sloan became an independent MP earlier this year when he was removed from the Conservative Party of Canada.

    Former conservative senator, Hugh Segal, says Sloan’s move to create a new party could negatively impact his former party.

    “If he’ll be more to the right, he’ll obviously be taking some votes away from the Conservatives at that far right-winged edge in his constituency and other constituencies where there may be candidates for his new party,” said Segal.

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    Liberal Mike Bossio lost his seat to Sloan last election, and will be trying to win it back during the upcoming election.

    Bossio believes Sloan has become a polarizing figure in the riding due to his views (ranging from abortion and LGBQT2 issues, to COVID-19 and vaccines.)

    “He has a very different worldview that he’s been sharing with Canadians. It’s certainly not a view that I share in any way, shape or form, I think that it’s a toxic and dangerous view,” said Bossio.

    Sloan says while he’s starting to build momentum for his new party in Western Canada, his intention to run in his own riding has not changed.

    © 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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