bne IntelliNews -
Zoran Zaev, leader of Macedonia's biggest opposition party SDSM, said negotiations for solving the country's deep political crisis have been unsuccessful, and blamed Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski for the failure.
On June 2, EU-mediated round table talks produced a preliminary agreement on holding early elections by end-April 2016. However, a second meeting in Brussels on June 10 failed to yield a final agreement. Ivo Vajgl, the EU rapporteur on Macedonia told bne IntelliNews that the gap between government and opposition had diminished to one sticking point, but an absolutely fundamental one – who governs the country in the run-up to the election. The leaders of Macedonia’s four largest political parties have held a few more meetings in Skopje since then.
Zaev has kept insisting that Gruevski step down. On the other hand, there was no change in the position of Gruevski that he will not resign either. Hence, on July 8 Zaev said that no agreement was reached on the basic democratic values which can provide for the expression of the free will of the citizens. He also stated that fair and democratic elections administered by a government of Gruevski would be impossible.
Nevertheless, on July 8 Zaev did leave an option open, Utrinski vesnik daily reported. This option envisages that the international community comes up with a concrete proposal worthy of discussion, a proposal which meets the main condition that the two sides share the responsibility for organising fair elections. In a related note, Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will visit Macedonia later this month.
Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted by IRI in June showed a strong lead for the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE and Gruevski. When asked how they would vote if parliamentary elections were held, some 23% of the respondents chose VMRO-DPMNE, whereas 11% supported SDSM. Gruevski and Zaev were trusted by 18% and 7% of the respondents, respectively. It is worth noting the majority of MPs from SDSM have boycotted parliament since the April 2014 general elections, claiming that the election was rigged.
In February, Zaev accused Gruevski of ordering a massive wiretapping campaign that targeted more than 20,000 Macedonians. Since then he has made many more allegations, and has been publishing taped phone conversations concerning, among other things, the current government’s involvement in judiciary, media and other key appointments. According to Gruevski, the scandal is a plot by foreign intelligence services, while Zaev claims he received the taped phone conversations from a whistleblower.
In late April, Macedonian prosecutors charged Zaev with “violence against representatives of the highest state bodies”. Prosecutors also indicted four other people, already in pre-trial detention, on charges including espionage, illegal wiretapping and violence.
The crisis deepened further as anti-government protests began on May 5. The first protest was violent, triggered by Zaev's allegations that Gruevski had tried to cover up the death of a 21-year-old, Martin Neskovski, who was beaten to death by a policeman at the time VMRO-DPMNE supporters were celebrating their party’s victory in the June 2011 parliament election.
During the weekend of May 9-10 at least 18 people, including eight police officers, were killed in armed clashes in the town of Kumanovo, close to the Macedonian border with Serbia and Kosovo. This was the worst outbreak of violence in the country since the inter-ethnic conflict between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians ended in 2001.
On May 12, three top Macedonian officials resigned, signalling a deepening political crisis. Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski were key members of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s administration, having held their posts since 2006. The third resignation was that of Saso Mijalkov, director of the administration for security and counter-intelligence, who is Gruevski’s cousin.
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