A protest in Skopje organised by a civil association supported by the opposition Social Democrats ahead of the pending Constitutional Court decision whether the president will be allowed to pardon people convicted for election fraud, sparked a counter-protest by supporters of the governing VMRO-DPMNE party on March 15.
The Constitutional Court will make the final decision on March 16 in a closed session. The new protests again raised tensions in the capital ahead of the snap general election planned for June 5. The election is seen as a way for the country to overcome the current political deadlock.
Several thousand people, organised by NGO Ajde and the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), staged a protest in downtown Skopje ahead of the court's session, but were prevented by police in armoured vehicles from continuing their march towards the Constitutional Court building, where they planned to spend the night.
At the same time, another group of protestors organised by VMRO-DPMNE’s coalition partner, GROM, held a counter-protest in the place where the night vigil was planned. The counter-protestors said they were there to defend state institutions and the country’s constitutional order, daily Utrinski Vesnik reported.
Downtown Skopje was closed to traffic for several hours. The SDSM said on its website that some 12,000 people participated in the protest.
The Constitutional Court's decision follows the launch of an investigation into election fraud by the Special Prosecution office, which has requested the detention of eight people, including high-level members of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, and ex-ministers of interior and transport, who are among the suspects.
According to critics, the Constitutional Court is greatly influenced by the governing party.
NGO Ajde held similar protests against the Constitutional Court’s plans to allow the president to pardon election riggers in February. President Gjorge Ivanov has not commented on the highest court’s decision.
The special prosecutor’s office, led by Katica Janeva, which was set up as part of the Przino agreement for overcoming the political crisis in Macedonia, is investigating allegations based on illegal recordings of incriminating conversations between senior officials obtained by the opposition SDSM party.
The election fraud case - named "Titanik" - was the first case launched by the special prosecutors. The request for the detention of eight people in the Titanik case was immediately dismissed by the basic court in Skopje, which also rejected the complaints that followed.
News portal Faktor wrote in February that the initiative to amend the law on pardoning was submitted to the Constitutional Court by a lawyer from the team that represented the defendants in the Titanik election fraud case.
The prosecutor’s statement on February 12 lists former ministers of interior affairs and transport among the suspects. Gordana Jankulovska and Mile Janakieski were at the top positions in the ministry of interior and transport respectively in 2012, in the government led by prime minister Nikola Gruevski of the VMRO-DPMNE.
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