Macedonian opposition to boycott EU-mediated elections

Macedonia's increasingly autocratic premier, Nikola Gruevski. [EPP/Flickr]

Macedonian lawmakers voted yesterday (18 January) to dissolve parliament next month ahead of an early election in late April, in line with an EU-backed deal to end a political crisis but under threat of a boycott by the main opposition.

The parliament of the Balkan country voted to dissolve itself on 24 February, after noting the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was required to step down 100 days ahead of a vote in accordance with the deal.

>> Read: Macedonia PM to resign, opening door to elections

The agreement reached in July last year between the government and the opposition was designed to end months of turmoil in the country of about 2.1 million people.

But the main opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) has since suggested it would boycott a vote on 24 April, the date scheduled in the deal, saying that conditions have not been met for fresh polls.

“SDSM and its coalition partners will not take part in the 24 April polls,” the party said in a statement released late on Monday.

Earlier, party official Goran Sugareski told parliament that “SDSM is not accepting elections without a free media and a cleaned-up electoral roll.”

“SDSM will continue to fight to create fair and democratic conditions for having elections with all the democratic means that we have,” Sugareski said before members of the party walked out ahead of the vote.

Analysts say Gruevski’s determination for the election to go ahead as planned indicates he is confident his VMRO-DPMNE party will win again.

His critics accuse Gruevski of presiding over an increasingly authoritarian government that has stoked nationalism among Macedonians in the absence of any progress towards membership of the EU or NATO, a process held hostage to a long-running dispute with neighbouring Greece over Macedonia’s name.

Parliament also voted in an interim government, led by prime minister Emil Dimitriev from VMRO-DPMNE, whose main task would be to prepare the elections. Out of 123 parliamentary seats, 72 deputies supported the cabinet, which included two SDSM ministers, as previously agreed.

However, the two ministers from the opposition were not in parliament and it was not immediately clear if they would participate in the government.

Dimitriev vowed that “the government will organise fair and democratic elections” and urged the opposition “to be constructive” and participate in the process.

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

Last year the crisis deepened when the SDSM accused Gruevski of wiretapping around 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the recordings revealed high-level corruption.

>>Read: Wiretap scandal threatens democracy in Macedonia

>>Read: EU envoys warn that Macedonia ‘can explode’

The government denied the accusations and in return filed charges against opposition leader Zoran Zaev, accusing him of “spying” and attempts to “destabilise” the country.

Thousands of supporters on both sides took to the streets of Skopje in protest, prompting the European Union to step in and mediate.

Macedonia has been an EU candidate nation since 2005 but has yet to open membership negotiations.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who spent 12 hours in talks with the various parties in Skopje on Friday, said in a statement Monday that he “would have preferred a consensual solution by all parties”.

“Now it is critically important that all political and institutional actors in the country do their utmost to ensure fair elections in line with democratic standards,” he said.

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