Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian parties set conditions for joining new government

By bne IntelliNews January 8, 2017

Three ethnic Albanian political parties in Macedonia adopted a joint platform on January 7 asking for more rights as a prerequisite for their participation in the new coalition government, one of the parties said.

The platform, issued on Orthodox Christmas day, may weaken the Macedonian parties’ negotiating positions as they try to form a new cabinet. The December 11 elections ended without a clear winner, as the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party has just two more seats than its rival the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). Either party would need the support of the ethnic Albanian parties to form a government. 

VMRO-DPMNE, which has governed since 2006, has 51 seats in the new parliament, while the opposition SDSM has 49 seats. The remaining seats are divided between the four ethnic Albanian parties, meaning neither of the two largest parties can form a government without bringing at least some of the Albanian parties on board. 

It is not clear whether all of the Albanian parties will join the new government, but all parties should stick to the platform under their January 7 agreement. 

VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) could potentially form a new government alone, but with only 61 seats their majority would be slim and unstable. It is most likely that all three will be part of the new coalition. Meanwhile, SDSM may find it easier to find common ground with the Albanian parties, having reached out to Macedonia’s Albanian population during its election campaign. 

The platform was signed by the DUI, the largest party from the ethnic Albanian bloc and former junior partner in government, with 10 seats, Besa (five) and the Alliance for Albanians (three). The Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), whose leader Menduh Thaci recently resigned due to its poor election results (two seats), did not sign the platform. However, Thaci said that his two MPs will support Besa.

One of the main demands concerns the use of the Albanian language within Macedonia. The ethnic Albanian parties want Albanian to be used as an official language at all level of governance on the whole territory on Macedonia, even in municipalities without ethnic Albanians, according to the statement issued by the DUI.

Currently, Albanian is used as an official language only in municipalities where over 20% of the population are ethnic Albanian. Ethnic Albanians make up one quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1mn population.

Another demand, according to the parties, is the establishment of a new mechanism to ensure decision-making on granting state funds to municipalities is more equitable, to enable equal development at local level.

The parties also demanded equal representation in the Macedonian army, police, the intelligence service, judiciary, public agencies and state-owned enterprises.

In addition they are seeking impartial operation of the Special Prosecution Office (SPO), which is tasked with probing high-level crime. The SPO was established in 2015 as part of the Przino agreement, intended to solve the crisis that emerged following a wiretapping scandal implicating high-rank officials in corrupt activities. The work of the SPO has been widely obstructed by VMRO-DPMNE.

The three parties also demanded the inclusion of ethnic Albanian representatives in negotiations for the resolution of the name dispute with Greece, one of the main obstacles preventing the country from gaining EU and Nato membership.

"The implementation of these objectives will be supervised through the establishment of a roundtable of the Albanian parties represented in the parliament," the DUI said.

The demands are intended to lead to full equality between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. According to the three parties, if fully implemented, they will also bring the country closer to membership of the two international institutions.

The platform was drafted after weeks of consultations with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who hailed the platform as “historic”.

“The expression of the joint will of the Albanian parties in Macedonia is an historic step: the Albanians rights will not be negotiated for seats in government,” Rama said in a post on his Facebook page on January 7.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov is expected to give a mandate to form a new government to the winning party or a party which will be able to establish a majority in the parliament, on January 9.

According to analysts, the new government will have a limited mandate and will focus on the reform priorities.

Macedonia was involved in a conflict with ethnic Albanians in 2001, which ended with the Ohrid Agreement that gave ethnic Albanians more rights. The insurgency was launched by the National Liberation Army, whose political leader was Ali Ahmeti, now a leader of DUI.

 

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