EU Council President Donald Tusk warned Macedonia today (15 April) not to let its political crisis risk its ties with the European Union and NATO.
“Europe needs a stable FYROM guided by the rule of law. The country’s Euro-Atlantic future is at risk,” Tusk said on Twitter, referring to the EU-accepted way to call the country “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
Europe needs a stable FYROM guided by the rule of law. The country's Euro-Atlantic future is at risk
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) April 15, 2016
Macedonia confirmed today it will hold snap polls on June 5, despite days of angry anti-government protests and opposition calls for a delay as the country grapples with a bitter political crisis.
The date was officially set after demonstrators took to the streets in protest at President Gjorge Ivanov’s decision to halt probes into more than 50 public figures, including top politicians, embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal.
“Based on my constitutional and legal authority… I today signed the decision to call early elections… on June 5, 2016,” Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanoski said in a statement.
The early elections, originally agreed for 24 April and then postponed in February to 5 June, are part of an EU-brokered agreement to solve the seething political feud.
Neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn said he doubts if credible elections are still possible.
Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition SDSM, has already said his party will boycott the election, claiming that conditions for a free and fair vote have not been met.
Thousands of people, mainly SDSM supporters, took to the streets on Thursday in a mostly peaceful protest, demanding Ivanov either revoke his decision or resign, as well calling for the election to be postponed.
New protests were announced for Friday afternoon.
Macedonia’s political crisis kicked off last year when the SDSM accused then prime minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping some 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the recordings revealed high-level corruption.
‘Serious doubts about vote’
The government denied the accusations and in return filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of “spying” and attempting to “destabilise” the Balkan country.
The original scandal eventually prompted the EU to step in and mediate.
Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January in order to pave the way for early elections.
Tensions surged again Tuesday when Ivanov announced the halt of judicial investigations into 56 people, including his ally Gruevski – still Macedonia’s most influential political figure.
Others affected by the decision included former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, ex-intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov as well as Zaev and former SDSM leader and ex-president Branko Crvenkovski.
Both sides have said they would rather see the probe go ahead.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party announced Friday it would ask Macedonia’s main political parties to sign a letter to ask Ivanov to reverse his decision.
Ivanov’s move has sparked condemnation abroad, with the United States and the European Union warning it raised questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and could hurt its aspirations to join the 28-member EU.
“In light of these developments I have serious doubts if credible elections are still possible,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn had tweeted Tuesday.
In light of these developments, I have serious doubts if credible elections are still possible 2/4
— Johannes Hahn (@JHahnEU) April 12, 2016
EU and US representatives met the president on Thursday, but gave no details about what was discussed.
“Mass pardon = impunity = obstacle to credible elections, Euro-Atlantic path,” US ambassador Jess Baily tweeted after the meeting.
Mass pardon = impunity = obstacle to credible elections, Euro-Atlantic path. 1/2
— Amb. Jess Baily (@AmbBaily) April 14, 2016
Ivanov has however received support from Moscow, which has accused outside forces of fomenting the crisis.
“The opposition, with outside help, is again used for stirring political conflict with the goal of disturbing the elections… the only democratic way to solve this long crisis,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic of 2.1 million people, has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but accession talks are yet to start.
Asked if Macedonia could lose its candidate status, Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said on Thursday she was not going to engage in speculative scenarios “right now”.