Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Macedonia's Crisis Could Cripple Local Councils

As well as a non-functioning parliament and a presidential veto on the formation of a new government, Macedonia may also soon be left without mayors and municipal councils.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

With no functioning parliament in place to either decree or postpone the next local elections, which are supposed to be held in early May, Macedonia's 80-plus municipalities are in danger of soon being trapped in deadlock.
The mandates of the current mayors and municipal councils run out on May 22 and unlike those of government ministers, they are not automatically prolonged until new ones are elected.

If parliament fails by then to find a solution through postponing the elections or making changes in the electoral code, the normal functioning of all the municipalities will be put at risk, observers say.

Ana Pavlova Daneva, a law professor at Skopje's State University, explained that "while the mayors can theoretically transfer their powers to the municipal secretaries" so that the municipalities can at least maintain basic functions like paying employees, legally "there is no substitute for non-functioning municipal councils".

The Union of Local Self-Governance of Macedonia, ZELS, an association of all the local authorities in the country, told BIRN on Tuesday that "it has no jurisdiction to give opinions about this issue".
"We are waiting for the institutions… to tell us how this problem will be solved," ZELS said.
Political analyst Denko Maleski said that the problem with the local elections is a direct consequence of the deep political crisis which revolves around the failure to form a new government after the December 11 early general elections.
Maleski insisted that the issue of establishing a new government needed to be solved first.

"I am not overly concerned about the local elections because we must first focus all of our attention on solving the big political crisis and [ensure] peaceful transition of power to the parties which formed a majority," Maleski told Plus Info news portal.

Tensions have been high since the polls in December but soared further last Monday after opposition Social Democrats, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev called on President Gjorge Ivanov to offer him a mandate to form new government.
  In an apparent attempt to debunk the position of the rightist VMRO DPMNE party regarding the so-called Albanian platform, one of the vice presidents of the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, Izet Mexhiti, told Alstat TV on Monday that during the post-election talks on a new government, VMRO DPMNE had accepted the same demands that it now disputes and uses to accuse the opposition of treason.

"VMRO DPMNE has also accepted bilingualism as well as fines for the heads of institutions who fail to implement the Albanian language. They have accepted everything; they only did not want to hear about the SJO [extending the mandate of the Special Prosecution tasked to investigate high level crime]. That's why our coalition with them failed. We have written evidence of this," Mexhiti said.

However, Mexhiti offered no further detail about the alleged evidence.

Before the December 11 early general elections, the DUI spent more than eight years in a government coalition with the VMRO DPMNE. The DUI joined the opposition Social Democrats after failing to negotiate a renewed alliance with VMRO DPMNE for the post-election period.

VMRO DPMNE insists it has never accepted Albanian demands, claiming they would endanger Macedonia's sovereignty, and accusing the opposition of treason for striking a government deal with the Albanian parties.
But Ivanov on Wednesday refused to give Zaev the mandate, despite the fact that he has put together a working majority in parliament, claiming that his government had the potential to “destroy the country”.

This was because Zaev has accepted demands made by the country’s ethnic Albanian parties in return for joining him in a coalition government.

Right-wing VMRO DPMNE party supporters have meanwhile been staging daily street protests in Skopje and in other towns to denounce Zaev’s proposed government. The protests were set to resume on Wednesday.

Although many constitutional experts suggested that the majority in parliament can ignore the president's veto and elect the new government on their own, arguing that constitutionally, Ivanov does not get to decide on this issue, a session of parliament has not yet been set amid fears of further violence on the streets.

Since last Monday, a series of incidents, including physical and verbal attacks against some journalists, NGO members and other critics of the past government led by VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, have occurred on a daily basis.

The most recent incident however had an ethnic undertone.
According to Nuer Arslani, the head of the Albanian Alphabet Museum in the town of Bitola, four masked perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails at the building early on Tuesday, but failed to set it ablaze.
The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday that Macedonia's politicians must not turn the political and institutional crisis into an inter-ethnic one.

"Do not play with fire, do not turn this into an inter-ethnic confrontation that would ruin the country and probably spread further beyond," Mogherini said, following her recent visit to Skopje.
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