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News 04 Oct 17

Record Number Apply to Become Macedonia's Chief Prosecutor

A record 23 candidates in Macedonia are bidding for the vacant post of chief prosecutor – who faces a tough task in restoring faith in this important but discredited institution.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian Public Prosecution HQ. Photo: BIRN

A record number of 23 lawyers, university law professors, judges and notaries have applied to Macedonia's parliament for the key post of chief prosecutor - which was vacated in August.

After a cumbersome procedure, which involves the Prosecutors' Council issuing opinions on each of the candidates within 30 days, the new centre-left government will pick one of the approved candidates and propose it to parliament for adoption.

"This is the first time that so many candidates appled. But, despite the cumbersome task at hand, we will try to observe the deadlines," the head of the Prosecutors' Council, Kole Steriev, said.

The previous chief prosecutor, Marko Zvrlevski, was the only candidate for the post when he was elected back in 2013.

Some experts see no problem in the large number of applicants, hoping that the unprecedented number may result in the best person being chosen.

It should be a person with "personal integrity, a professional, a person who will not succumb to any pressures and who will do his job," a former Macedonian judge in the human rights court in Strasbourg, Margarita Caca Nikolovska, said.

Zvrlevski was dismissed in August. He was accused of being too close to former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his then ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

He was acccused also of taking a very selective approach to dealing with the many corruption accusations made against Gruevski's government.

Zvrlevski's dismissal followed the change in power in May, when the Social Democrats, SDSM, took over the government, following a lengthy political crisis.

Judging by the serious shortcomings of the prosecution's and judiciary's work in the past, including the selective application of justice noted in many reports issued by local watchdogs and by Brussels and Washington, the new chief prosecutor may struggle to restore faith in this institution.

He or she is expected to curb political interference in the office's work and end the practice of blocking the work of the Special Prosecution, SJO, which was formed in 2015 to investigate allegations of high-level crime.

Under Zvrlevski, the SJO failed to open proper investigations against many then top government officials who were accused of wrongdoing.

Indeed, Zvrlevski did not even accept the legality of the SJO, insisting that its formation had been unconstitutional.

The new chief prosecutor will also be under pressure to speed up the investigation into the violence seen in parliament on April 27.

A group of VMRO DPMNE supporters then stormed the parliament in Skopje an attempt to prevent the election of a new speaker. The mob attacked and injured some 100 people, including MPs from the new majority.

During the violence, one MP, Zijadin Sela, was even knocked unconscious. The SDSM leader, now Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev was struck in the head.

Despite speculation that the new government would favour one of prosecutors currently working in the SJO to apply for the vacant post, not one has applied.

The new chief prosecutor needs the backing of at least 61 of the 120 MPs to be elected. The term in office lasts six years.

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