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Two young businessmen ride anti-graft message to top of Bulgarian politics – Reuters



SOFIA, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Two young Harvard-educated entrepreneurs hope to use anti-corruption credentials earned during a brief stint in a caretaker government to break Bulgaria’s political deadlock in Sunday’s election and put the country on road to prosperity.

Graft has long been the dominant political topic in the EU’s poorest country, and voters have pinned their hopes on successive leaders pledging to clean up public life, only to see administrations crashing in scandals.

Kiril Petkov, 41, and Assen Vassilev, 44, set up their new centrist party, We Continue the Change, in September, and polls show they could become a key part of talks to form a new administration following two inconclusive elections since April.

“We are promising zero corruption. This is what we are going after. No small tolerance, nothing, zero. We are going to try to eradicate it,” Petkov told Reuters in an interview.

The group is running neck-and-neck with the leftist Socialists for second place ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary vote, giving it a fighting chance to lead talks on a coalition government.

Opinion polls show the centre-right GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, ousted in the April election, will be the biggest party after Sunday’s vote. But it is short of allies, giving it little chance to form a government.

Serving for about four months as interim economy and finance ministers earlier this year, Petkov and Vassilev gained public support for efforts to uncover wrongdoing in state institutions under Borissov.

In May, Petkov found that state-run Bulgarian Development Bank, set up to support small business, had extended 946 million levs ($559.43 million) in loans to just eight companies.

Vassilev boasted of boosting tax collection by 2.5 billion levs by increasing controls on big businesses that operate with public and EU funds.

“Between corruption and waste, you are looking at about 4 billion euros a year,” Vassilev said.

Petkov, who has filed documents to relinquish Canadian dual citizenship to qualify for office in Bulgaria, has invested in start ups and ran a successful probiotics company. Vassilev is also an entrepreneur and business consultant.

Supporters see their youthful charm and casual manner as a breath of fresh air, a particularly striking personal contrast with the burly, bullet-headed Borissov.

Their rivals say their emphasis on reforms is more a matter of style than substance, and conceals a drive for power which makes them just like other politicians. Some worry that they simply look and sound too good to be true.

Political wrangling prevented GERB’s opponents from building a government in the previous two elections this year. Petkov pledged things will be different this time.

“We are not going with an ego in the negotiations, we are going with a cause….You will see a very different mindset in the negotiations that are to come,” he said.

($1 = 1.6910 leva)

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova
Editing by Peter Graff

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Women-in-politics group expands province-wide – Toronto Star



See Jane Run, a grassroots organization promoting and supporting women interested in running for municipal office in the Saint John area, is expanding to help women across New Brunswick.

In a media release Friday, co-founder Katie Bowden said the municipal reform white paper will kick off the process for a series of November 2022 municipal elections. She said See Jane Run will be there to support female candidates and promote diversity provincially yet again.

“The 2021 election was a solid step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before we see the diversity of our communities reflected around our province’s council tables,” Bowden said.

The sweeping municipal reforms mean 57 communities will have a municipal election next year, and 12 newly formed rural districts will elect councillors. Seven communities will hold by-elections to elect representatives for the communities merging with other municipalities.

Bowden said the 2022 election means they won’t have to wait another four years before working toward the goal of more diversity in municipal politics.

“We will be continuing to encourage and welcome Black, Indigenous, people of colour and gender-diverse folks to offer as candidates and join our group,” she said. “Ensuring there is a wide variety of perspectives heard both in the upcoming election and around the council table will be a huge win for our province.”

Formed in 2021, See Jane Run, which is run by volunteers, held a campaign college speaker series and private Facebook group for candidates and their campaign managers.

Along with Bowden, Rothesay Coun. Tiffany Mackay French and Grand Bay-Westfield Mayor Brittany Merrifield also co-founded See Jane Run.

“There is no party system at the municipal level, so candidates are on their own,” Mackay French said in the release. “See Jane Run fills that void, building a non-partisan community of support around our candidate group, helping them navigate the election process, ask questions in a safe space, tackle challenges together, and understand how to be successful at the job they’re running for.”

In the process of becoming a not-for-profit, the organization plans to begin fundraising to offer its campaign college materials in both French and English.

“Municipal elections are part of the leadership funnel that will see us eventually reach gender parity in the New Brunswick legislature, and elect our first female Premier,” Merrifield said in the release. “It all starts close to home – and now is the time to start thinking about offering your candidacy next November.”

Merrifield won’t have to re-offer in the by-elections in 2022 when Grand Bay-Westfield merges with a chunk of the Westfield West LSD. The community will be one of seven holding a by-election to elect a councillor to represent what will become a former LSD.

Merrifield said the 2021 municipal election saw a significant uptick in the number of women running and an increase in the number of women who were successful at winning their election contests.

“The organization was key,” she said. “When you’re running municipally, there’s no party support. You’re kind of out there on your own.”

As a result, four of five of the communities in the region elected a female mayor and four of five communities increased the number of women around the council table, she said.

“We feel we played a small part in that. We built awareness about the fact that women in politics are a good thing for building your capacity for diversity around the table and better policy,” Merrifield noted.

She said women face challenges when entering politics that white male candidates don’t.

“Women carry heavy loads from a work perspective and a home perspective,” she said. “It’s about talking to women about the fact that they can take this on.”

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Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA



Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.

“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.

“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”

Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.

“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.


(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg



Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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