Friday, February 02, 2007

Political crisis in Macedonia as DUI leaves parliament

Members of Parliament from the Democratic Union of Integration (DUI) halted their work on Friday (January 26th), following a decision by the party's central committee in Tetovo.

Party mayors, however, have decided not to cut relations with the government for the time being. They will present reports to the party's steering board on their relations with the government within the next 14 days, and the issue will be on the agenda of the next session of the Association of the Local-Self Government Units (ZELS).

The move by DUI lawmakers came despite warnings from the EU and NATO, stressing the importance of political dialogue for the country and its aspirations for membership in the two organisations.

The DUI and its coalition partner, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), are angry at being excluded from the cabinet despite having won the majority of ethnic Albanian votes in last year's elections. Instead, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his VMRO-DPMNE party tapped another ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), to join the ruling coalition.

The DUI is not willing to be part of an institution where Albanians are outvoted and marginalised, party chief Ali Ahmeti said. The party also claims that the ruling coalition has repeatedly violated the so-called Badinter principle, which requires overwhelming support by minority parties, when minority-related laws are being voted on.

Gruevski said the boycott does not worry him. "That is their democratic right," he said. "As far as it is within democracy I will respect it and I don't see anything tragic."

The DUI has only existed for a few years and clearly needs time to mature, he added.

Coming at a time when the future status of Kosovo is being resolved and Serbia has just completed major elections, the political crisis in Macedonia has raised concern among analysts.

The opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which partnered with the DUI when in power, has been trying to mediate a solution. However, the ruling coalition has spurned their proposals, saying they are not in a position to set conditions.

Meanwhile, the DUI and DPA have been engaged in a bitter war of words. In an interview for the daily Dnevnik, Ahmeti accused DPA leader Arben Xhaferi and former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski of provoking the ethnic conflict in 2001, with the aim of dividing Macedonia.

DPA Vice President Menduh Taci then released a statement saying a lawsuit would be brought against Ahmeti, who he accused of threatening the country with a revival of war. "If Ahmeti were to try such an adventure again, he would receive a dashing response by all Albanians, not only in Macedonia but in Kosovo and Albania," Taci said.

As the DUI-PDP parliamentary boycott was announced, President Branko Crvenkovski was in Brussels for talks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. In a joint message sent from their meeting, Crvenkovski said the crisis could be overcome with a little will and political responsibility.

For his part, de Hoop Scheffer said the government and opposition did not have to agree on everything, but should keep their communication channels open.

EU envoy Erwan Fouere, a strong advocate of political dialogue, urged all parties in Macedonia to abandon the practice of staging boycotts.

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