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News 27 Apr 15

Macedonia Mall Referendum Fails to Meet Target

A campaign in Macedonia to save a 1970s mall from a government planned Baroque makeover appears to have failed owing to a low turnout in Sunday's local referendum.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
GTC in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

A first-ever local referendum in Macedonia, on the future of a famous mall in Skopje, appeared to have failed on Sunday after only 40 per cent of residents of the municipality of Centar cast ballots.

A 50-plus threshold was needed for the vote to be pronounced successful.

Speaking late on Sunday, Centar mayor Andrej Zernovski said that almost everyone who did vote backed calls to preserve the iconic 1970s GTC - City Trade Centre from a planned Baroque makeover.

"Over 95 per cent of the votes went for the preservation of the authentic look of the GTC", he said, adding that this ought to send a message to the government, despite the formal failure of the referendum. "No one can dare to ruin the authenticity of the GTC," Zernovski continued.

The mayor blamed the failure to interest local voters partly on what he called the inaccurate electoral roll inherited from last year's elections, which the opposition did not recognize, and on a silent strategy of the part of Macedonia's main ruling party to boycott the vote.

"If we had had a real electoral roll, the turnout would have been more than 60 per cent," Zernovski claimed.

Opposition parties claim the electoral roll for the Centar district of Skopje, containing some 43,500 names, is suspiciously large and contains many fictive voters who have been misused during previous elections.

Recently revealed secretly taped conversations of government officials support the opposition claims that the electoral rolls in Macedonia are routinely tampered with.

In some conversations, senior government officials openly plot various election malpractices.

The campaign "I Love GTC" is part of a two-year struggle to spare the much-loved building | Photo by: Darko Duridanski

CIVIL - Centre for Freedom, an NGO which regularly monitors Macedonia's elections and which on this occasion deployed about 100 observers, noted several irregularities.

CIVIL said a number of voters could not find their names at their usual polling stations, raising suspicions that they had been erased or shifted elsewhere. They also said in some places there were separate electoral rolls for people who allegedly lived abroad, which it also deemed suspicious.

CIVIL noted reports that in some tall buildings elevators were not working on Sunday, which has occurred during past elections.

In some of the recently revealed tapes, ruling VMRO DPMNE party officials discussed shutting down tower block elevators to prevent elderly people in this opposition bastion from voting.

VMRO DPMNE has not yet commented on the outcome of the Centar referendum.

The opposition mayor and a coalition of NGOs that gathered the petition for the referendum, have been waging a two-year struggle to spare the building from a Baroque makeover.

The mall, located metres from the central Macedonia Square, is the biggest and most visited shopping centre in the capital.

Unlike the others, the state-owned mall, built in the 1970s, has open entrances from all sides, making it an essential transit route for people traversing the city centre each day.
Modernist in design, the inspiration behind the GTC came from old Ottoman-era "bezistans", or covered markets.

The envisaged new look of the GTC

If the government has its way, many of the mall’s entrances will be closed and the facade coated with pillars and domes inspired by Classical Antiquity, in line with the city-wide makeover known as “Skopje 2014”.

The government also wants to construct an additional floor for the mall and place sculptures on the roof.

Campaigners objected to what they called the makeover's kitsch and un-historical style.

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