News 05 Sep 12

Macedonia Albanians to Block Parliament Over Army Law

Ethnic Albanian party threatens to block the work of parliament with hundreds of amendments if the ruling party pushes on with a controversial law on the armed forces.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian armed conflict in 2001 | Archive photo

A controversial law concerning the rights of members of the Macedonian armed forces and their families is to be put to a session of Macedonia's parliamentary commission on labor  on Wednesday. Next week the law is to be put to a plenary session.

The draft law put forward by the main ruling VMRO-DPMNE party provides a range of privileges for members of the armed forces that fought in the conflict in 2001.

The privileges also apply to their families, and to those of deceased fighters.

But the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the junior party in the coalition government - whose leaders are former Albanian guerrilla fighters - either wants the same rights extended to them and their families or the bill dropped altogether.

“Our primary goal is for the draft not to pass,” a DUI legislator told Balkan Insight under condition of anonymity.

The legislator said that the party plans to submit “hundreds of amendments to try to block the session” as well as to “use other means that are at our disposal”.

The party will also insist that such a draft law needs a so-called double majority to become law.

This means that MPs from both main ethnic communities must vote for it to pass into law.

“Leaving the government is not an option right now but if VMRO [DPMNE] does not change its mind we will have to consider it,” the legislator added.

A government crisis erupted in mid-August when the Defence Minister, Fatmir Besimi, an ethnic Albanian from the DUI, laid flowers before a monument to Albanian guerilla fighters killed in the 2001 conflict in Slupcane, a village near the northern town of Kumanovo.

The act outraged many Macedonians, and President Gjorgje Ivanov and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski both criticized Besimi.

The crisis then intensified when VMRO DPMNE soon after tendered the draft law on the miitary, prompting the DUI to threaten to leave the government.

But VMRO DPMNE seems unfazed.

“Solving the status of defenders [army and police veterans] was part of our election promises and we are determined to see this done,” Silvana Boneva, a legislator from VMRO DPMNE, said.

Unofficially, members of the party say a possible compromise with the DUI is unlikely until the Prime Minister and party leader, Gruevski, returns from a official trip to the US.

He is leading an economic road show aimed at attracting foreign investors to Macedonia from America.

Recently, President Ivanov expressed optimism that the government parties will find a way to overcome their differences.

The dispute is “nothing out of the ordinary in a democratic society” and “we should let government partners work thing out,” Ivanov said.

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