News 04 Mar 13

Local Election Campaign Gets Underway in Macedonia

The campaign for the March 24 vote began on Monday after a last-minute political deal ensured that the Macedonian opposition reversed its boycott pledge.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The agreement on Friday ended the opposition’s parliamentary boycott as well as ensuring its participation in the municipal race later this month, after a political crisis that has threatened to derail the country’s EU ambitions.

The vote to choose mayors and municipal council members will be held in 80 municipalities and in the city of Skopje. Over 1,740,000 people are eligible to cast ballots, according to the voters’ list.

The exact number of candidates will be known later this week, because the deadline for submitting lists of contenders has been postponed until March 9.

In order to be able to run for office, all candidates will first have to pass a check-up from the so-called Lustration Commission, a state office tasked with rooting out collaborators with the former secret police.

Following intensivee talks with EU representatives on Friday, Macedonia's opposition Social Democrats agreed to end its parliamentary boycott and take part in the elections.

For its part, the government led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has agreed to launch talks with the opposition on choosing a time for the next general elections after the end of the local polls, and to start a debate about democratic freedoms in the country.

It has also been agreed that a commission of experts should investigate the incident in parliament on December 24 that triggered the political crisis. The findings will inform an important European Commission report on Macedonia due in spring.

The Social Democrats launched their boycott of parliament on December 24 after the government parties passed a budget for 2013 in just a few minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from the chamber.

The crisis threatened to derail Macedonia's EU agenda, as the EU Council has said that any decision on opening accession talks for Macedonia will be based on the next report from the European Commission.

This will assess whether Macedonia has taken real steps towards reaching a deal with Greece over its name, to which Athens objects, whether it has improved relations with Bulgaria and has carried out reforms at home.

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