Tensed political atmosphere
On 16 March it was announced that the political atmosphere in Macedonia is characterised by tensions and a lack of trust. Since PM Nikola Gruevski resigned on 15 January, the planning and supervision of the next elections have been heavily debated. Tempers are running extra high now the Constitutional Court might pardon individuals who rigged previous elections. On Tuesday evening a protest march, backed by civil society organisations, the main opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Grom party, filled the streets of Skopje.
Protests against Presidential pardon
The court is about to decide whether the President is allowed to pardon alleged election-riggers. A decisive session behind closed doors was held on Wednesday. This lack of transparency further angered critics. They state it is clear that this ruling serves the interests of the main governing party, the conservative VMRO DPMNE, whose officials were recently suspected of election fraud. A protest march in Skopje, on Tuesday evening, was stopped by the police from holding what civic platform ‘Ajde’ called “a vigil for the constitution”. SDSM leader Zoran Zaev explained his presence by stating that the Constitutional Court should defend the Macedonian constitution and laws. A protester stated that the critics represent the free Macedonia: “we want to see justice applied to everyone equally. The other rally is made up of party soldiers and scared administration workers who are told what to do, where to go and even what to eat". The rival group he referred to supports the government and protested "in defence of the judges".
Earlier this month, Macedonia's Special Prosecution, started investigations into several governmental individuals, including two former ministers and one senior official. They are suspected of election fraud in 2013. Former police minister Gordana Jankuloska, former transport minister Mile Janakieski and government secretary general Kiril Bozinovski, all members of the government of VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, were questioned in court. However, Skopje’s Criminal Court refused a prosecution request to detain them, which was another controversial decision.
In recent years, the opposition boycotted the parliament multiple times. Since the last elections lacked transparency and were subsequently rigged, the opposition did not want to participate in the parliamentary process. The incumbent party repeatedly dismissed these claims, adding that the opposition is simply afraid to go to the ballot box. One of the main issues, according to the opposition, is the electoral roll. The validity of many votes is questionable. The State Electoral Commission is finally researching if registered voters are actually deceased, lack citizenship or don not have the right age. Another relieve for the opposition was the support of the EU and the US to their critique of democracy in Macedonia. On 21 February, the EU and the US sent a joint letter pressuring the government to postpone the date of the elections, initially set for 24 April. Eventually they were postponed to 5 June. The written statement further declared that, all conditions needed to organize credible elections, had not been met: the clean-up of the electoral roll, the creation of a level playing field for all political players, media reforms ensuring objective and unbiased election coverage and measures to separate state and party political activities. As such the external interference arranged prerequisites for the next elections. However, according to the EU mediator Peter van Houtte, talks on such reforms have halted. He confirmed that some political parties are not interested in continuing reform talks. Tamara Chausidis, from the Independent Journalist’s Trade Union, SSNM, states the talks on media reform have fallen victim to murky bargaining between the political parties.
Whether all the necessary reforms will be made in time for 5 June is uncertain. It is also unclear if the elections can proceed and whether the opposition will and can join in a fair matter. However, the OSCE plans to monitor them in any case. Besides their permanent Mission to Skopje, which assists with the reform of the electoral system, the OSCE is invited to monitor the parliamentary elections. the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) also undertook a Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) from 2 to 5 November. The purpose of the mission was to assess the pre-election environment and the preparations for the elections. Based on the assessment, the NAM will recommend whether to deploy an OSCE/ODIHR election-related activity for the forthcoming elections, and if so, what type of activity best meets the identified needs.
Sources: Balkan Insight 1, Balkan Insight 2, Balkan Insight 3, Macedonian Information Agency and OSCE