Macedonia's newly elected speaker takes office

Macedonia's newly elected speaker takes office
Macedonia's newly elected speaker Talat Xhaferi.
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 3, 2017

The newly elected speaker of the Macedonian parliament, Talat Xhaferi, is now installed in his new office after being temporarily prevented from taking up the position by lawmakers from the conservative VMRO-DPMNE on May 2.

Appointing a new speaker is an essential step before a new government can be voted in. VMRO-DPMNE, which has ruled Macedonia since 2006, tried to block Xhaferi from taking up the post since this will pave the way for the election of a new government led by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and backed by parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority.

Xhaferi, a MP from the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), was elected on April 27 in an unconventional procedure in the middle of the parliament hall, as the speaker’s chair was occupied by MPs from VMRO-DPMNE, who tried to prevent his election. This sparked violent incidents in the parliament which left over 100 people injured, including SDSM leader Zoran Zaev.

When Xhaferi initially tried to take up the new post, several VMRO-DPMNE MPs prevented him from entering the speaker’s office, saying his election was not valid. Outgoing speaker Trajko Veljanovski, who was supposed to officially transfer the position, was not present.

Xhaferi has already met the EU ambassador for Macedonia Samuel Zbogar, who announced the meeting on Twitter - a move that puts VMRO-DPMNE under pressure to accept his appointment. 

"Expressed EU's readiness to work with [Xhaferi] on necessary reforms for Euro-Atlantic integration,” Zbogar tweeted. 

Earlier, VMRO-DPMNE said in a statement that Xhaferi was elected in an unlawful procedure and that the Social Democrats should revoke his nomination.

On the other hand, the SDSM said that allowing Xhaferi to take up the new post would allow democratic processes in the country to continue.

“We are pointing out that this is of high national interest and that any prevention of Xhaferi to take up the new post is unconstitutional and is a criminal act,” the SDSM said in the statement.

"Talat Xhaferi is the new speaker with whom the EU, the US and Nato will cooperate," the party added. 

However, it is not clear whether the election of Xhaferi will be published in the Official Gazette, a publication controlled by VMRO-DPMNE. After over a decade in power, the party controls many of the institutions in Macedonia. 

Around one hundred people stormed the Macedonian parliament on the evening of April 27 following Xhaferi’s election. About 20 masked people reportedly turned violent and started attacking lawmakers from the SDSM and ethnic Albanian parties. Damage was also reported inside the parliament.

The police said on May 2 they had filed additional charges against five people for participation in the incidents on April 27. Previously, charges were filed against 15 people for perpetrating violent acts and participation in a mob. Macedonia’s Public Prosecutor Office proposed detention for 14 of them, but detained only seven. For one person, prosecutors suggested a precautionary measure. 

The threat of violence continues. According to news agency MIA, on May 2 an improvised explosive device was found in the Macedonian parliament. The parliament’s security services told the police they found a detonator attached to a big gas cylinder on the first floor of the parliament, but the device was defused. 

The Social Democrats have said that the violent incidents in Macedonia’s parliament were caused by people close to the conservative VMRO-DPMNE.

Macedonia has been without a government since the December 11 election after VMRO, which narrowly won the election, failed to form a government. Meanwhile Zaev, who has a majority in parliament with the support of the ethnic Albanian parties, was denied a mandate by President Gjorge Ivanov due to his party’s acceptance of a platform drawn up by the Albanian parties, which seeks greater rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.

On May 1, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee concluded his visit to Macedonia, organised in a bid to help resolve the political impasse. Yee condemned the violence and said the authorities should allow a new government to be formed as soon as possible and that the reform process should continue.

VMRO-DPMNE is now demanding new elections to solve the crisis in the country, while the SDSM has said there will be no elections.