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21st Jan 2021

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North Macedonia warns EU on 'dirtiest ever' election

  • North Macedonian prime minister Oliver Spasovski (l) with EU Council president Charles Michel in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.e)

North Macedonia is heading for its "dirtiest ever" election, its prime minister has warned, as Europhiles prepare to take on nationalists.

"I'm sure that this election campaign will be one of the dirtiest parliamentary elections so far in North Macedonia. I'm sure that fake news and media propaganda will be part of day-to-day life during the elections," Oliver Spasovski told EUobserver in Brussels on Tuesday (18 February).

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He spoke after MPs in Skopje recently chose 12 April for a snap vote in the wake of an EU snub on enlargement.

A French veto on opening accession talks prompted its pro-EU leader, Zoran Zaev, to resign and for Spasovski, a 43-year old former interior minister, to take over as caretaker leader in January.

But despite the dirty games and other "hybrid threats", North Macedonia can deliver a free and fair vote Spasovski, whose task is to ensure the legitimacy of the election, also said.

"The Republic of North Macedonia has the capacity to organise democratic, fair, and free elections that would allow the citizens to decide which way the country should go," he said.

When asked if Russia might try to interfere in the outcome, the prime minister added: "All the countries in Europe, all the countries in the region, in their process of accession to Nato and the EU have been faced by these kinds of hybrid threats".

"But the state institutions are strong enough and they're prepared to ensure the elections are conducted under normal circumstances," Spasovski added.

He also urged the EU to open accession talks before the North Macedonian vote was held.

"We did everything that was requested of us as a government [by the EU], and it's very important for us to have this message sent out, especially in March," he said, referring to an EU summit next month.

"Timing is of utmost importance to us in order to put a stop to the uncertainty [on North Macedonia's EU future] that might appear in the country, but also in the region," he also said.

The EU snub on enlargement "contributed to a return of nationalist rhetoric" in North Macedonia, Spasovski added.

"The decision was a ... strategic mistake and contributed to disappointment among ordinary people," he said.

The 12 April vote will see Zaev and Spasovski's pro-EU Social Democrats clash with the VMRO-DPNA party of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

Gruevski fled to Hungary last year after being convicted of corruption and after erecting nationalist monuments in Skopje.

The VMRO-DPNA has also said it supports EU and Nato membership.

But its policies, such as abolishing the North Macedonia-Greece name deal demanded by the EU, did not bear that out, Spasovski said.

And the opposition party had learned little from the scandals of Gruevski's time in office, Spasovski added.

"We have two opposing concepts - the first one offers integration in the EU and Nato, prosperity, freedom, transparency, democracy, and ... the opposing concept is contrary to everything I just said and that's supported by the current opposition [VMRO-DPNA]," the caretaker prime minister said.

"It hasn't done anything to change since the time of 'Gruevism' ... this Gruevsim, this concept, is still deeply rooted in their activities," Spasovski said.

"Not making the right decisions at the right time only stimulates Gruevism and this kind of thinking among people, because people don't believe in the European perspective in such circumstances," Spasovski said, referring to the timing of the EU accession talks decision.

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