Macedonia’s highest court allows pardons for election riggers in controversial ruling

Macedonia’s highest court allows pardons for election riggers in controversial ruling
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 16, 2016

Refusing to bow to public pressure, Macedonia’s Constitutional Court made the controversial decision on March 16 to allow election riggers to be pardoned, a move that may raise political tensions in the country.

In a closed session on March 16, the country's highest court approved an initiative to annul amendments to the law on pardoning, approved by the parliament in 2009, that ban the president from pardoning people convicted of election fraud, along with paedophiles and drug dealers.

According to its critics, the Constitutional Court is greatly influenced by the governing party and its latest decision is aimed at protecting the defendants in the ongoing Titanik electoral fraud case.

The decision follows the launch of an investigation into election fraud by Macedonia’s special prosecution office in February, dubbed “Titanik”. The special prosecution has requested the detention of eight people, including high-level members of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, and ex-ministers of interior and transport, Gordana Jankulovska and Mile Janakieski, who are among the suspects in the case.

However, the special prosecution’s request for detention was immediately dismissed by the basic court in Skopje, which also rejected the complaints that followed. The Titanik election fraud case was the first case launched by the special prosecution office, led by Katica Janeva.

With the scrapping of the amendments, the president will be able to release anyone convicted in the case from prison.

The decision will come into effect within eight days of its publication in the Official Gazette.

President Gjorge Ivanov has not yet commented on the highest court’s decision.

According to Nova TV, the decision also allows criminal proceedings to be halted or rejected.

Judges who voted for the decision said that the constitution does not specify in which cases a pardon can be issued, and for this reason the parliament cannot restrict or expand the rights of the president in this area, Nova TV reported.

The initiative to scrap the amendments was submitted to the Constitutional Court by a lawyer from the team that represents former interior minister Jankulovska and Edmond Temelko, mayor of the Albanian municipality of Pustec, populated with ethnic Macedonians, both involved in the Titanik case. Citizens of Pustec were allegedly pressured to vote in Macedonia for the governing party.

The decision has also drawn international criticism. “Why would the Constitutional Court close today’s session? Transparency is essential for any institution,” the US embassy in Skopje said in a massive protest organised by NGO Ajde a day earlier, supported by the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). According to the SDSM, some 12,000 people participated in the protest on March 15 in downtown Skopje. However, protestors were prevented by police in armoured vehicles from continuing their march towards the Constitutional Court building, where they planned to spend the night.

This triggered a counter-protest by VMRO-DPMNE supporters, who gathered in front of the Constitutional Court to defend, as they said, the court and the constitutional order.

VMRO-DPMNE supporters, who spent the night in front of the court, dispersed following the announcement of the court’s decision, broadcaster Nova TV reported.

Biljana Bejkova of Ajde told bne Intellinews on March 16 that discussions are underway for further consolidation and plans for new steps that will be taken following the final Constitutional Court’s decision.

We will see how to proceed, what kind of actions to take, she added.

Similar protests organised by Ajde were held on February 24-25 and on February 29.

The special prosecution office, which was set up as part of the Przino agreement in July 2015 for overcoming the political crisis in Macedonia, is investigating allegations based on illegal recordings of incriminating conversations between senior officials obtained by the SDSM.