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News 19 Jan 16

Macedonia Risks Opposition Boycott Over Early Polls

Ruling parties have unilaterally decided to press on with early elections in April, despite opposition insistance that conditions for fair and free polls are not in place .

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski confirmed on Monday that he wants to go ahead with early elections on April 24 | Photo by: MIA

The ruling majority in parliament on Monday verified the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, voted to dissolve parliament and elected a new government, paving the way for elections on April 24.

In the absence of MPs from the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, 72 of the 123 deputies voted to dissolve parliament on February 24, 60 days before the elections, so that the early general polls can take place on April 24.

After parliament accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Gruevski, President Gjorge Ivanov handed the mandate to form a new interim government to Emil Dimitriev, the secretary-general of Gruevski's VMRO DPMNE party. The new government with Dimitriev at the helm was elected by 72 votes. The new government will be in charge until the elections on April 24.

The unilateral move by the ruling parties came after the Social Democrats said they would boycott the polls unless key preparations are met for fair elections as stipulated by the EU-brokered political accord aimed at ending the country’s long-running crisis.

Ilija Dimovski, an MP from the VMRO DPMNE party, told parliament, however, that it was “time for citizens to take charge” of the political process.

“The dissolution of parliament is the highest moral gesture,” Dimovski said.

Liljana Dimovska, an MP who heads the small opposition Democratic Renewal party, warned that the unilateral decision to set the election date without opposition agreement was a recipe for more political chaos.

“This is an introduction to a new destabilization of Macedonia… Elections without the opposition will lead to a boycott and renewed street protests. The government is surely aware of this but the question is why are they opting for this scenario?” Dimovska asked.

Under the EU-brokered deal, opposition figures were supposed to be appointed to the interim cabinet, which needs to be approved by parliament, but an opposition boycott now appears likely.

In its first reaction to the decision to press ahead towards elections without cross-party agreement, the opposition said in a statement that the move only proves that “Gruevski is afraid and runs away from free, fair and democratic elections”.

Macedonian parliament | Photo by: MIA

The opposition has said it will not agree to polls in April unless the electoral roll is checked properly for fake voters and media freedom is ensured.

Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev insists that most reforms agreed in the agreement brokered by the EU to end Macedonia’s political crisis have not been fully implemented or have only formally been addressed, although the deadlines for doing so have long passed.

The government move comes after visiting European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn failed to secure a deal on the election date during talks last Friday with the leaders of the four main political parties.

Hahn issued a statement on Monday evening. "I take note of the decisions taken today to conduct early elections on 24 April as foreseen in the Przno agreement.  But as stated, I would have preferred a consensual solution by all parties," he said.

"Now it is critically important that all political and institutional actors in the country do their utmost to ensure fair elections in line with democratic standards. To achieve this, the urgent preparatory work must be stepped up, notably on the voters' list," he added.

"Despite the failure to find a common agreement on the election date, I expect all political parties to cooperate constructively and to stick to all their commitments under the June/July political agreement, including the urgent reform priorities," Hahn continued in a statement.

The political crisis in Macedonia escalated last February, when Zaev started releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which he said showed that Gruevski was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers.

Zaev insists that the tapes contain incriminating evidence against many senior officials, including proof of high-level corruption, the government grip’s on the judiciary, prosecution, businesses and media, politically-motivated arrests and jailings, electoral violations and even an attempted cover-up of a murder of a man by a police officer.

Gruevski, who has held power since 2006, says the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.

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