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News 24 Mar 16

US Denies Backing Gruevski in Macedonia Election

US embassy in Skopje has dismissed a pro-government newspaper's claim that Washington wants Nikola Gruevski to win the forthcoming early elections.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Ilustration for the text in The Washington Times

The US embassy in Macedonia has dismissed claims made in the pro-government newspaper, Vest, that the US is hoping former prime minister and ruling party leader Gruevski will win the early elections in June.

"The United States Government does not endorse candidates in other countries’ elections.  Macedonia is no exception," the embassy wrote to former Vest editor Goran Mihajlovski, who was dismissed from the paper in December.  

The daily, now run by a new editorial team, on Wednesday wrote a text called "Gruevski favored by one of the most Circulated US Newspapers" with a subtitle reading: "Washington has its fingers in the Macedonian election race."

The text cites a column in The Washington Times, written by Jason Katz, a public relations professional and a principal of TSG, LLC, a strategic communications, political and policy consultancy.

In the column, "Why a stable Macedonia Matters", Katz praises Gruevski and his ruling VMRO DPMNE party, which he says promises stability and prosperity over the opposition Social Democrats whom he refers to as "former communists" and their leader, Zoran Zaev whom he calls a "racketeer".

The wording of the column clearly resembles that used routinely by VMRO DPMNE in Macedonia.

After several texts appeared recently in US newspapers that are critical of the Macedonian opposition, BIRN contacted the authors who insisted they had not been paid to represent VMRO-DPMNE, the Macedonian government, or others representing those interests.

Katz said that his interest in Macedonia stemmed from a “geopolitical/US foreign policy standpoint”.

A recently published BIRN analysis revealed that over the last few months, VMRO DPMNE has signed contracts worth almost $1.7 million a year with several Washington lobbying firms.

Publicly available documents show the Daschle Group, New Partners Consulting, Inc. and Global Security and Innovative Strategies LLC, GSIS, all advise packaging VMRO’s messages so as to address security, economy and democracy issues as well as Macedonia's military participation in NATO-led missions, as selling points.

None mentions the ongoing political crisis is Macedonia nor the EU brokered "Przino" crisis agreement reached this summer that envisaged urgent reforms and Gruevski's resignation ahead of new elections.

The crisis in Macedonia revolves around opposition claims that Gruevski ordered the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including his own ministers.

The Social Democrats started releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes last February. The opposition insists 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 and who stepped down in January under the terms of the EU-brokered agreement, says the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.

Initially planned for April, the elections have been now postponed for June 5, following a joint EU and US assesment that said the country was not yet ready for truly free and fair elections.

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