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News 09 Feb 18

Split Rocks Macedonia's Ethnic Albanian Besa Party

An internal power struggle threatens to split the ethnic Albanian opposition BESA party in Macedonia, which although small, is potentially important in keeping the country's new government in office.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
 BESA leadership at a party rally in 2017. Archive photo: BESA

A growing rift inside the BESA party in Macedonia has resulted this week in two rival party congresses being set for February 24 – with each side insisting it has the right to lead the party.

On one side is a group around Bilal Kasami who claims that he is still the legitimate party leader, and who wants BESA's five MPs to consider joining the ruling majority, led by the Social Democrats.

However, only two of the five BESA MPs in the 120-seat parliament remain loyal to Kasami.

On the other side is a group around MP Nexhmedin Karemani and two other MPs. This group disputes Kasami’s legitimacy and recently elected Karemani as an interim party leader until the congress.

“[Kasami] was dismissed by the majority and that is that. We will hold our scheduled congress, and if they [the Kasami supporters] want to face the majority, they should come to our congress,” Orhan Murtezani, from the fraction that supports Keremani, told BIRN.

But Kasami still holds the party’s official stamps and recently defended his legitimacy to lead the party in court.

He has insisted that the majority of BESA members are with him and that his opponents will be forced to form another party after the February congress.

Speaking to BIRN, Kasami last week said that the group opposing him is led by people with deep ties in the NGO sector who “were afraid of losing their posts” in the party leadership after the congress he summoned.

He has accused his opponents of leading the party away from cooperation with the main ruling Social Democratic Union, SDSM, which formed a government last May, and of secretly siding with the former ruling right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which was accused of authoritarianism.

At early general elections held in December 2016, BESA, a relative newcomer to the political scene and a strong opponent of the government run by VMRO DPMNE and its junior partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, won 60,000 votes and five seats.

It made BESA the second largest ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia after the DUI, which won 10 MP seats.

But, despite expectations that the party would join the new Social Democrat-led government under Zoran Zaev, the party in May chose to stay outside, insisting it cannot join a government with the DUI, its main rival, which switched sides to join Zaev.

Kasami told BIRN that after BESA recovers under his leadership, it will reconsider joining the government, possibly during a cabinet reshuffling in spring. He said he already discussed this option with the Prime Minister Zaev.

“According to what Zaev told me, the first reshuffle is expected in spring and he urged us to think by then about whether we would join the government,” Kasami said.

If at least some BESA MPs joined the government, it would increase Zaev’s wafer-thin majority in parliament. His government is supported by just over 60 MPs in the 120-seat assembly.

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