Macedonia's VMRO-DPMNE holds protest to defend election victory

Macedonia's VMRO-DPMNE holds protest to defend election victory
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje December 16, 2016

Several thousand sympathisers of Macedonia’s VMRO-DPMNE, which narrowly won the recent general election, gathered in front of the state election commission (SEC) office on December 15 to “safeguard the party’s victory”, even though the SEC had already rejected almost all the opposition's complaints.

The mass protest, which was aimed at disrupting the work of the SEC, signals that the December 11 snap election could ignite a much worse crisis in Macedonia than previously seen, rather than being a solution to the existing political uncertainty in the EU-aspiring country.

Protestors started to gather in front of the SEC’s office late on December 15, after the commission asked for a graphologist’s opinion on one of the complaints. VMRO, which won 51 seats compared to 49 for the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia’s (SDSM) in the election, brought its activists by bus from other cities in Macedonia to Skopje to protest in front of the SEC office.

“We will not allow existence of any politics to the detriment of Macedonian interests and will not allow the state to be governed by people who are willing to commit treason,” VMRO-DPMNE senior official Ilija Dimovski told the crowd.

Outgoing VMRO-DPMNE Health Minister Nikola Todorov said at the protest that the decision to call in a graphologist was “scandalous.”

Other VMRO-DPMNE officials also called on the SEC to recognise, as they said, the “clear victory of VMRO-DPMNE.”

“No fence can stop us if we move ahead. We are nearing the end of our patience,” Filip Petrovski, a director of the National Archives from VMRO DPMNE, said during the protest.

US ambassador threatened

Petrovski, who once was Macedonia’s general consul in New York, sent a personal message to US ambassador Jess Baily.

“Take your hands away from the SEC, and do not give [the SDSM] courage to make unrest, we do not need a new Taksim or a new Kyiv,” Petrovski said, referring to protests in Turkey and Ukraine. 

A few days earlier, the US embassy in Skopje had rejected accusations in the pro-government media that Baily was interfering in the work of the SEC. “This is not a time for fake news or conspiracies. Let us correct the record to clearly state the US ambassador has not met with, visited, or intervened with anyone at the SEC," the embassy said in a statement.

Participants in the protest, which included members of other parties from the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition, sent other threatening messages during the evening.

Some protestors warned that the SEC office and US embassy would be set on fire if VMRO-DPMNE was stripped of its victory, according to some local media.

According to the law, any party has the right to file complaints about the election results if it spotted irregularities. However, it seems that VMRO-DPMNE will try to preserve its narrow victory by all means. 

On the other hand, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said that [former Prime Minister Nikola] Gruevski would not be able to form a new government. “Regardless of the SEC’s final decisions, the new government will be formed without Gruevski,” Zaev said in a statement.

SEC work continues 

The SEC is due to continue its session on December 16 to review the remaining complaints filed by the SDSM after three of its complaints were rejected, news agency MIA reported.

On December 15, SEC also rejected seven of eight complaints filed by opposition-oriented ethnic Albanian party Besa. The graphologist had been called in to address one of Besa’s complaints. 

Besa officials have also complained that SEC’s decisions are politically influenced.

“It was very painful to watch Albanian representatives in the SEC, from [Democratic Union for Integration] and [Democratic Party of Albanians] as well as the supposedly independent member, were protecting the interest of VMRO-DPMNE and Nikola Gruevski,” a Besa official said in a live broadcast.

Meanwhile, a court in Skopje started its first hearing in a case launched by the special prosecution office (SPO) on December 16. The case is related to an attack on an opposition mayor of Skopje’s Centar municipality allegedly ordered by Gruevski, who was implicated in one of the illegally wiretapped conversations released by the SDSM last year.

Former Transport Minister Mile Janakieski was also involved in the case. The SPO is in charge of probing high-level crime connected to the wiretapping scandal. The hearing was initially scheduled for November 21, but was cancelled before the election.