Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On the Verge of Empowerment, DPA Looks Forward to Future Successes

Even as DUI leaders announce “mass protests” for the August 25 parliamentary vote on the new government, their empowered Albanian rivals are confident that law and order will prevail in the end, and are looking forward to making a positive contribution to the political and economic development of the Macedonian state.

In an exclusive interview with, DPA Secretary General Ruzhdi Matoshi spoke of his party’s ambitions, plans for the next four years and desire to improve on outreach and public relations. The party spent much of 2005 boycotting parliament and had ostracized itself for a time from the international community for several extreme nationalist statements. However, DPA was rehabilitated in the eyes of the West just in time for the elections and, despite some violent pre-election incidents instigated by party members, was selected by the winning VMRO-DPMNE as partners in the new government.

According to Mr. Matoshi, the rehabilitation owed partially to the party’s protests over corruption committed by the DUI during the March 2005 local elections, which resulted in a practical sweep for DUI, which took the mayoral positions of the most important Albanian-populated cities and towns. Says Matoshi, “there was a team in the US Embassy compiling a report on bad behavior during the elections, and they brought a lot of information from our own report on corruption to the attention of the State Department.”

Mr. Matoshi also presented evidence that would seem to confirm other sources who claim that intimidation of OSCE observers occurred in Kicevo-area villages under the control of DUI. The election-monitoring body has stated that some trouble did occur in the area, but has so far at least not gone into specifics.

On Past Challenges and Future Goals

Although DUI won more parliamentary seats than did DPA in the July 5th elections, the Macedonian victors chose their traditional Albanian coalition partner, DPA, rather than the party of former militant leader Ali Ahmeti- who was responsible for starting the 2001 war that broke out when VMRO-DPMNE and DPA were last in government.

Although international pundits and diplomats have expressed suspicions that the war may have been started by the leaders of the two parties, (now deposed) Ljubco Georgievski and Arben Xhaferi, a revisionist version of the still-murky war – partly motivated by politics, and partly by reading into the event based on who benefited from it later – has it that SDSM and the then-NLA Albanian fighters actually orchestrated the fighting as a way of taking power over an inexperienced government that had already been hard-hit by having to deal with the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999, and the resulting influx of over 400,000 Kosovar refugees, which placed great strain on the country and increased ethnic tensions.

Indeed, when asked about the challenges faced and mistakes made during the parties’ previous 1998-2002 reign, Mr. Matoshi noted that “we [DPA] had too many challenges. We had to try to convince the Macedonian side to allow in the refugees from Kosovo, and that NATO was not a bad organization [for bombing the Serbs]. Still, the economy was getting better, the EU relations were improving, until the war stopped things.”

The VMRO-DPMNE party, which has been purged of its former nationalist leadership and ‘old guard’ figures associated with murky business dealings, has under the present rule of Nikola Gruevski sought to present a more young, enthusiastic and pro-Western lineup of new ministers and advisors. Mr. Matoshi also indicates that his party is concerned to improve its image in the outside world. “We should be more communicative, to express ourselves in a better way” he says, “and we will have zero tolerance for corruption or bribery”- a difficult task considering the endemic nature of such practices in Macedonian society. The DPA General Secretary added that the party will strive to be “closer to the people.”

Bringing “managerial values” to the public administration and business community is part of DPA’s plan for 2006-2010, “so foreigners can see visible improvements” as Macedonia continues making reforms towards possible EU membership. Mr. Matoshi also agrees that it would be a good idea, as some are suggesting, that jobs prone to politicization and corruption such as Public Prosecutor and Health Fund director could be given to a foreign expert rather than a Macedonian citizen. “Such a person could be more impartial… and it will be more easy for bad men to be judged.”

The DPA General Secretary categorized the ministries the party has received – health, education, culture and ecology – as “optimal,” adding, “it is not a question of how many ministries we have, but rather their functionality… we will work hard, and be respected as strong contributors.”

Regarding the ‘national aspect’, i.e., Albanian-specific issues, DPA will be under a lot of pressure from voters to prove that it is the legitimate representative of Albanian interests. Inevitably this will involve dealing with a good bit of relatively symbolic issues. However, this is also likely to alienate Macedonians who already feel that under the last regime SDSM gave away far too many special perks – not to mention a third of the country with the territorial decentralization – to DUI.

Nevertheless, “we will try to work positively with VMRO-DPMNE on the law for languages,” says Mr. Matoshi, “and to realize the Ohrid Agreement in a practical way. And we want to always try to make Macedonia look good in front of the West, so that they will always support us in our goal of being NATO and EU members.”

Representation, Intimidation and Security Concerns

A more populist approach may be a good safeguard, too. After all, the party used the contention that Ali Ahmeti and DUI had forgotten the interests of ordinary people – most fatally, former NLA rank-and-file – and successfully used this platform to attract many such individuals to their side. Thus when asked about whether DUI could indeed cause widespread violence, Mr. Matoshi only smiled. “[The war of] 2001 cannot repeat. If it does, it will be a war between DPA and DUI… and we have more capacity to make problems than them, anyway, having more former fighters. They are no longer allowed to speak for the Albanian people.”

Yet it was precisely this claim – that by winning the majority of the Albanian popular vote, DUI was therefore the ‘democratic representative’ of the people – which Ali Ahmeti has used to argue for why DUI must be included in the government. It was a seductive argument for DUI backers, who argued that the Ohrid Agreement and indeed the whole fabric of human rights risked coming undone should the party not participate in government. Yet, even considering this argument, did DUI actually win?

According to election officials, only 47-49 percent of eligible Albanian voters turned out to vote on July 5th - hardly a sign of overwhelming affection for either party. Officially, DUI took (together with smaller partner PDP) 113,803 votes, or 17 parliamentary seats, while DPA had 70,317 votes, or 11 MPs. However, Mr. Matoshi claims that fraud and intimidation in Ali Ahmeti’s stronghold of Kicevo-Oslomej-Zajas in western Macedonia robbed them of up to 30,000 votes.

“The math is not the same as the statements of Ali Ahmeti,” he says. “If we [DPA supporters] had had the right to vote in his areas, they would not have had almost 114,000 votes. They would have had 80,000.” Although it is unclear how many parliamentary seats would have changed hands under such a scenario, given Macedonia’s proportional representation system, it is certain that the final result would have been closer and Ahmeti would have had less of a basis on which to stake his claim to power.

Most extraordinary is a specific incident which Mr. Matoshi claims to have witnessed in the village of Gresnica, a few kilometers after Ahmeti’s hometown of Zajas on the road to Ohrid. Parties have the right to place observers in or around polling stations, and so Mr. Matoshi went to this DUI-controlled village to try and see whether local polling officials would allow people with the wrong IDs to vote. According to him, his presence inside the school where the voting was taking place was not encouraged, but “I made a compromise with the OSCE observer; I could stand outside of the school, and they would monitor from inside.”

However, things took a dramatic turn when the chairman of the municipal election committee allegedly told the OSCE observer that he should leave also. According to Mr. Matoshi, “he told the OSCE guy, ‘you are violating the rules of Albanian tradition by looking at the women in the eye, and by touching their hand and ID.’ The observer replied, ‘I am Croatian and our traditions are basically the same- and this is not it.’ Yet he was sent out, and when he tried to look at IDs from in front of the school, he was intimidated into leaving from there too.”

At one point in the post-election period it was being rumored that DPA Vice-President Menduh Thaci, who has a reputation for toughness, would be appointed minister of defense. However, in the end this turned out to be just a rumor. Yet given Thaci’s power base in Tetovo and the DPA’s claims that most of the former NLA supports the party, have any international officials sounded them out regarding their ability to keep DUI extremists under control?

“No one has asked us to ensure security,” says Mr. Matoshi. In any case, he predicts that DUI will not be able to cause major incidents, for both political issues and ‘capacity’ ones as well.

The Electricity Issue

When asked about questionable actions of the outgoing rulers, Mr. Matoshi also called into question the government’s decision to rush the privatization of state electricity provider ECM. Austria’s EVN AG spent 225 million euros for 90 percent of the company. “They did not sell it at the optimal time,” he believes. “It should have been sold either earlier or later, but now Macedonia was not in the best position to get the best price… maybe it was a sign of corruption [being sold when it was], but I can’t say.”

A major bone of contention for years has been massive back payments owed to ECM by everyone from individuals to corporations. Under the new Austrian regime, the company is already seeking to crack down and collect its dues by shutting off electricity to state buildings and companies mostly in southern and central Macedonia, inciting dire warnings of economic ruin to come. In the past, attempts to do the same in Albanian-populated areas of northwestern Macedonia have resulted in a violent and outraged reaction. Collectors dispatched to Albanian villages have been attacked, and the state company had generally treaded carefully here- leaving Macedonians resentful that they are in effect paying for their ethnic neighbors’ bills.

When asked about this disparity, Mr. Matoshi quipped, “electricity does not discriminate- people should pay, regardless of nationality.” He said that he does not expect much trouble in the future, and that DUI “won’t be able to use this as a political issue.” Perhaps even the rugged individualists of remote Albanian villages will be forced to knuckle under when faced with uncompromising Austrian ownership.

Perhaps when all is said and done, the company will have even recovered most of its purchasing expenses. It certainly does not feel shy about stepping up the pressure, even as it announces new rate hikes. “‘We won’t say what the total debt is, because of company policy,’ [EVN spokeswoman Lence] Korpuzovska told the Associated Press. ‘It’s not the company’s job to consider the social aspect (of power cuts) … It is up to the government, if it is willing, to cover part of the bills for the poor.’”

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