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28/07/2016

Macedonia not ready for ‘credible’ polls by April: EU, US ambassadors

Elections

Macedonia not ready for ‘credible’ polls by April: EU, US ambassadors

Emil Dmitriev

Macedonia’s preparations for planned snap elections in April have not progressed enough to hold a “credible” vote by then, the US and EU ambassadors to the country said yesterday (21 February).

The early parliamentary polls, slated for 24 April, are part of a European Union-backed deal reached last year between the government and the opposition to end months of political turmoil in the former Yugoslav republic of about 2.1 million people.

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The main opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) party has already threatened to boycott the elections, complaining that the conditions are not in place for them to be free and fair.

In a joint letter to interim Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev, who formed a technical government in January to prepare the polls, EU Ambassador Aivo Orav and US ambassador Jess Baily agreed with the opposition’s assessment.

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“We note that the work of the State Electoral Commission to date and the findings of all relevant experts indicate that at this stage the necessary conditions for organising credible elections on 24 April are currently not in place,” they wrote.

They said they were particularly concerned at “reports of pressure and intimidation of voters and others”, and about the lack of an agreement “on media reforms, to ensure a more level playing field”.

“If elections cannot be held at the foreseen date, political parties are expected to work to take the necessary measures to allow holding credible elections at the earliest possible date,” said Baily, who read out the letter to reporters in Skopje.

The ambassadors said they had taken note of the fact that some party leaders had suggested 5 June as a possible alternative date for the elections.

The country’s parliament dissolved itself last month after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski stepped down in accordance with the agreed deal, paving the way for an interim government to run Macedonia until new elections are held.

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After the country’s last polls in 2014, won by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party, the SDSM boycotted parliament saying the polls had been marred by fraud.

The crisis deepened last year when the opposition accused Gruevski of wire-tapping and high-level corruption. The government denied the allegations and accused the main opposition leader of spying and of trying to destabilise the country.

The row triggered rival protests on the streets of Skopje and eventually prompted the European Union to step in and mediate.

Macedonia has been an EU candidate nation since 2005 but has been in a decade-long stalemate in the process of accession to both the European Union and NATO due to a veto by Greece. Athens denies its neighbour the use of the name Macedonia, claiming to have a historical right to it.