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News 31 Jul 17

Macedonia's VMRO DPMNE Tweaks Leading Committee

In a bid to improve its battered image, Macedonia's former ruling party has shuffled a number of notorious figures off the party's executive committee.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Former PM and VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski [centre]. Photo: MIA

Macedonia's former ruling VMRO DPMNE party has removed several indicted former ministers and senior officials from its executive committee – although with ousted PM Nikola Gruevski still leading the party, the changes appear more cosmetic than substantial, observers say.

"They want to show they are making changes but there can be no real change without the removal of the party leader. I see this as more of a cosmetic change than a substantial one," political analyst and Skopje university professor Nenad Markovic said.

The party, which held power for 11 years and went into opposition this May, on Sunday announced the removal of some of its most prominent figures from the executive committee.

They include the former Transport Minister, Mile Janakieski, the former Interior Minister, Gordana Jankuloska, the former chief of Gruevski's cabinet, Martin Protugjer, and the former Vice Prime Minister, Vladimir Pesevski.

All of them face charges pressed by the country's Special Prosecution, SJO, which was set up to investigate high-level crime.

Previously, the former secret police chief, Gruevski's cousin, Saso Mijalkov, announced that he was withdrawing from the party committee until he cleared his name regarding several charges, including an indictment for allegedly masterminding a massive illegal wiretapping scheme.

The party insists that the shifts are not related to the SJO indictments but to the need to strengthen the party ahead of the local elections in the autumn.

Some party officials also indicted by the SJO – or whose voices were heard in the illegal wiretaps relased in 2015 –  like MPs Daniela Rangelova, Antonijo Milososki, Ilija Dimovski and Gruevski himself, remain on the committee.

Former Finance Minister Zoran Stavrevski also remains part of the new committee.

Gruevski, who has been indicted by the SJO in several cases, announced the party's "refreshment" himself last month.

They come after several party veterans in June launched a move to "democratise" the party, demanding structural changes and alterations to the party's statute, which they claimed allows the leader to control all aspects of the party's life.

Aleksandar Mihajlovski, one of the leaders of the reform initiative, said he felt disappointed by the changes on offer.

"We have had different concepts of how the reforms should be carried out. The first was for structural changes, based on a declaration about the democratization and modernization of the party, which we submitted to the leadership ... The second method that the party leadership chose was a facelift, which we do not think will yield any results," Mihajlovski said.

Among the new names in the committee, two are controversial. Historian Nikola Srbov is a founder of the "Stop Operation Soros" association, dedicated to countering the influence of billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Bogdan Ilievski was one of the organizers of this year's violent protests against the formation of a new Social Democrat-led government, which escalated on April 27 when protesters stormed parliament and injured some 100 people.

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