Anti-government protests dubbed the “colourful revolution” continued in the Macedonian capital and several other cities on May 3 despite the bad weather, following a short break during the Orthodox Easter holidays, as parties gear up for a possible renewal of talks to find a way out of the deep crisis.
The protests were sparked by the unexpected decision of Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov to halt a raft of criminal proceedings against 56 people including ruling politicians and high-level officials. Ivanov’s April 12 decision, which undermines the work of the special prosecution office, sparked almost daily protests and called the plans for an early general election on June 5 into question. The decision also angered Brussels, representing a further setback for Macedonia’s hopes of progress towards EU accession.
Several thousand people joined the latest protest in Skopje on May 3. The marks of the recent protests are evident in the capital, as demonstrators spattered coloured paint on monuments including the Porta Makedonija, Skopje’s version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the monument of Alexander the Great.
Protests are scheduled in Prilep, Stip and Strumica as well as Skopje, a representative of the NGO Protestiram (I protest), which organizes the protests, told bne Intellinews on May 3.
“Stop the corrupt judiciary that serves Gruevski and his clique!” the NGO said on its Facebook page, announcing that the latest rallies were against the “corrupt and partisan” judicial system.
During the holidays, several hundred Macedonians also staged small protests in the Netherlands and Canada to support the anti-government demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the press office of the main opposition party Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) confirmed that the party has received a message from the EU for the renewal of talks between the main political parties, after they stalled as the crisis escalated following Ivanov’s decision.
“We have not received any letter from EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, but there was a message from the EU office,” a representative of the press service told bne Intellinews on May 3.
Local media reported that the message was conveyed by the EU ambassador in Skopje Aivo Orav during the Orthodox Easter holidays.
Broadcaster Telma reported on May 3 that Brussels had asked for seven benchmarks to be met, including those already set – clearing of the electoral roll, withdrawal of Ivanov’s decision and media reforms – as well as several new conditions.
According to some media, a representative of VMRO-DPMNE and the SDSM held a secret meeting on April 28, but details were not revealed.
Electoral picture clearer after May 11
Whether the June election will take place or not will be known after May 11, when the deadline for submitting parties’ candidate lists will expire, Dane Taleski, visiting fellow at the Centre for Southeast Studies at the University of Graz, told bne Intellinews.
According to Taleski, currently there are no conditions for holding free, fair and democratic elections on June 5, as the electoral roll has not been cleared and media reforms have not been made, which means that candidates will not have equal opportunities.
Additionally, the state election commission operates without full legitimacy since the SDSM withdrew its members from the commission and the president does not support the existing electoral roll, Taleski added.
According to Taleski, the main factors determining whether the election will go ahead will be the position of the ethnic Albanian parties – the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), a minority partner in the government, and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).
“If they decide not to participate in the snap vote, VMRO-DPMNE and its satellite parties will be the sole players. If they participate, the legitimacy of the election would be diminished and contested by the entire opposition,” Taleski said.
However, if the vote takes place, the election would still be fully or partially non-credible, and “disastrous” for the future of Macedonia’s democracy, he said.
ICG says crisis in Macedonia worsens
Meanwhile, on May 2 the International Crisis Group (ICG) placed Macedonia in the group of countries where the crisis situation deteriorated. This follows the president’s decision to pardon all politicians facing criminal investigations, “which undermines the work of [the] special prosecution tasked with investigating allegations of illegal wiretapping,” ICG said.
Now Macedonia is in the same group as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Gambia, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Congo and Syria.
Macedonia’s political crisis also worsened as the SDSM announced it would boycott the June 5 elections due to the government’s failure to implement media reforms and clean up the electoral roll, the ICG said in a notice.
The ICG listed the events that contributed to its decision as continuing protests in Skopje and outside the capital, the cancellation of the EU-backed crisis talks, the shooting of a special prosecution witness and the recent report from Freedom House describing Macedonia’s media as “not free”.