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News 10 Mar 17

Zaev Unveils Platform, Vows to Respect Macedonia's Constitution

The head of Macedonia's opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, on Friday made a fresh attempt to persuade the President to let him form a government, promising that his new government platform would respect the country's constitution.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
SDSM Leader Zoran Zaev. Photo: Boris Grdanoski/AP/Beta

In a lengthy expose held in the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party in Skopje, party leader Zoran Zaev on Friday said his new government platform would "strictly abide" by the terms of the constitution, guaranteeing the country's unity, sovereignty and stability.

"We are presenting the platform here today because we have been deprived of the ability to do so in parliament. I would like to assure President [Gjorge] Ivanov that there are no more plans or political party platforms... There is only a single platform of the new Macedonian government," Zaev said.

Zaev expressed the hope that Ivanov would now award him a mandate to form a government as soon as possible so that normal democratic processes can be resumed.

Macedonia has not had a new government for over two-and-a-half months, since the December 11 early elections failed to produce a clear winner.

In a decision that inflamed tensions, President Ivanov last Wednesday refused to award Zaev a mandate to form a government despite his having assembled a majority in parliament, claiming he might use it to destroy the country.

Ivanov insisted that Zaev's coalition had the potential to "destroy the country" because he had accepted the demands of the country's ethnic Albanian parties as contained in a joint "platform".

The demands led off with a call to extend the official use of Albanian throughout the country. Albanians make up about a quarter of the population of Macedonia.

Zaev called on protesters who have been holding daily marches in Skopje and across Macedonia against his announced government to go home, insisting that they had been misled by "fierce propaganda" into thinking that his new government would trade away Macedonia's national interests.

"We have heard their voice, we have some understanding ...  I am sending a message to them, go back home. There comes a time for democratic processes in Macedonia, for serious reform and the restoration of life for everyone," Zaev said.

Zaev insisted that the ongoing protests of VMRO DPMNE supporters would only lead towards further internal divisions and isolation of the country.

“Only the politicians who have lost power and who know that the changes will bring rule of law and criminal responsibility for the crimes they've done would benefit from that [isolation],” Zaev said.


Discussing the opposition's next steps in the current impasse, Zaev said he hoped that next week the new majority in parliament would be able to elect a new speaker and unclog the stalemate.

He said the opposition would make “all available efforts” to persuade Ivanov to change his mind, rather than resorting to plan B, which would include electing a government without a presidential mandate.

Some constitutional experts say this would be legal.

“However, we would prefer not to create procedural precedents and would like to see him [the President] play his ceremonial role of awarding the mandate,” Zaev said.

Fears about Albanian demands dismissed

Macedonian President, Gjorge Ivanov. Photo: president.gov.mk

Addressing the ethnic issues that have raised most tension and anger among protesters, Zaev said that he had agreed to the demands of his Albanian partners for a new language law that would extend the official use of Albanian and of other languages of ethnic minorities.

He said that, like the current law, the new legislation would abide by the constitution, which defines Albanian as the second official language in all areas where Albanians make up more than 20 per cent of the population.

He also said claims that everyone will be obliged to learn Albanian language, “and that the people who don't know it will be fined”, were “a lie”.

But he also said that, after consulting constitutional experts, he believed that any potential changes to police or army uniforms or to the national currency, to make them bilingual, would be unconstitutional.

He said he was personally against changing the country’s flag, coat of arms and anthem to include the Albanian community, but was open to a wide and transparent debate on all open issues, which he insisted could only be beneficial.

He also dismissed claims that he had accepted Albanian demands to condemn neighbouring Serbia for conducting genocide against Albanians during the Balkan wars of 1912-13.

“This was part of the mass hysteria created by VMRO DPMNE,” he said.

“My position is that in these parts over the centuries there were many people who suffered from many warring sides, foremost the Macedonian people ... That is a matter that should be left foremost to the historians to debate it,” Zaev said.

Economy, rule of law and corruption among priorities

Among the top priorities of his future government Zaev mentioned building a strong civil society, EU and NATO membership, better living standards, fair taxes and social welfare, economic development, equal regional development, transparent governance and an independent judiciary.

VMRO DPMNE Slams Zaev

In its first reaction, VMRO DPMNE slammed Zaev as “a pardoned criminal” and his new platform as a mere "political pamphlet”.

The party, which has been in power since 2006, reiterated its demand for another early election, or for Zaev to outright reject the Albanian demands or, as it calls them, the "Tirana platform".

"Today the pardoned criminal Zaev spent an entire hour reading a political pamphlet and trying to convince the public [of his good intentions] while he could have done so in one minute - by clearly denouncing the Tirana platform", said Antonio Milososki of VMRO DPMNE at a press conference.

He also urged a stronger fight against corruption, civil control of the communications surveillance and the need for an independent media.

Zaev announced the formation of a special department in the Skopje criminal court to handle cases launched by the Special Prosecution, SJO.

“We urgently need better life, development and equality, a resolute fight against corruption, and effective institutions. Macedonia needs to get out of the political crisis, to stop being a captured state,” Zaev said.

Zaev invited his political rivals in VMRO DPMNE, or, as he called them, “the future opposition”, to comment on the new government platform, pledging to respect their views.

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