Monday

20th May 2019

EU and US urge Macedonia to postpone election

  • Wiretaps exposed abuse and corruption, but Gruevski still high in the polls (Photo: epp.eu)

The EU and US have urged Macedonia to postpone elections scheduled for April amid concerns over media bias and voter intimidation.

Their ambassadors to Skopje, the EU’s Aivo Orav and America’s Jess Baily, issued the appeal in a joint letter on Sunday (21 February) to Macedonia’s interim PM Emil Dimitriev.

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“The findings of all relevant experts indicate that at this stage the necessary conditions are not in place for organising credible elections on 24 April,” the open letter says.

It notes that “an agreement has not yet been reached on media reforms, to ensure a more level playing field”.

It adds that there are “reports of pressure and intimidation of voters”, describing the situation as “regrettable”.

But it also says elections should be held “at the earliest possible date” and highlights that rival party leaders had already “mentioned 5 June as a possible alternative”.

The letter is a blow to the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party of former PM Nikola Gruevski.

Gruevski, who had held power for the past decade, stepped down in January in line with the so-called Przino agreement - an EU and US-backed accord designed to solve last year's political crisis.

The crisis erupted after wiretap leaks indicated abuse of power and corruption at the highest levels of Gruevski’s government.

The Przino deal spelled out far-reaching reforms to be undertaken before a fair vote could take place.

Boycott

The opposition SDSM party, which published the leaks, had earlier threatened to boycott the April vote saying many reforms were never carried out.

But the VMRO-DPMNE was keen to stick to April because polls indicated that it was heading for a win.

The divided country, which is home to a large Albanian minority, suffered up to 1,000 casualties in an ethnic conflict 15 years ago.

The fighting ended with a power-sharing deal enshrined in the so-called Ohrid agreement.

But the Albanian minority is also unhappy that some parts of Ohrid were never honoured.

The recent crisis threatened to provoke instability when government forces clashed with what they called Albanian terrorists in the town of Kumanovo last May, leaving 22 people dead.

Migrants

Refugee bottlenecks in the region have also prompted EU warnings that too much pressure on fragile Balkan states could see a return to armed conflict.

The EU's enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said on his last visit to Skopje that: "The country is in a very difficult strategic situation."

“There is a very serious migration crisis in Europe. What we have seen in 2015 will certainly continue in 2016.”

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