By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia may soon join neighbouring Albanian and Serbia and postpone its head count, planned for April, as country readies for early elections.
The head of Macedonia’s Census Commission, Vesna Janevska, says postponing the census is a viable option if the forthcoming general election campaign is deemed likely to interfere with the outcome.
“It would not be good if the census and an election campaign coincided,” Janevska said on Thursday.
“If elections are held in June, the campaign would not start till May, which means the two events would not coincide, but if elections are set for May, there will be interference.”
The centre-right government of VMRO DPMNE and the opposition Social Democrats have not agreed an exact date for the general election.
Nikola Gruevski’s government initially opted for a mid-April date but the opposition insist on mid-June as the earliest date possible if elections are to be fair.
Some argue that polls in April are practically impossible, given the procedures that need to take place beforehand. Some suggest both sides may find middle ground in a May date.
Janevska’s deputy, Albulmenaf Bexheti, went further than his boss, saying that whether or not there were elections, the census would have to be postponed anyway.
This is because the commission has allegedly not had enough time to train all the staff tasked with collecting the data. Estimates are that 9,000 people are needed.
Janevskia, on the other hand, maintains everything is running on schedule. Last week, she announced a second call for staff, after too few ethnic Albanians answered the first call.
But Bexheti said this was too late. “The call itself will last for a week and additional time is needed for training. That cannot be done until April 1 so the census will have to be postponed,” he insisted.
A government spokesman, Martin Martinovski, said the government had not yet officially considered postponing the census.
If it decides to do so, Macedonia will be third country in the region to delay a count.
Late in February, Albania postponed its population census from April to November, citing May 8 local elections as the reason for the decision.
Serbia has also postponed its planned census, from April to October. Belgrade said it had insufficient funds to carry out the count on time.
The last census in Macedonia took place in 2002. Results showed that 64.2 per cent of the population of about 2 million were Macedonian and 25.2 per cent were ethnic Albanian. Roma, Turks, Serbs and other minorities made up the rest.
The census took place a year after the signing of the 2001 Ohrid Peace Accord, which ended a short-lived armed conflict in the country between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces. The Ohrid deal guaranteed more rights for ethnic Albanians.
Whether this year’s census reveals major changes in the country’s ethnic makeup remains to be seen.
Some Albanian opposition parties say they fear the census will be abused in order to lower the real number of Albanians in the country. Some Macedonians, meanwhile, fear that the census will show a large increase in Albanian numbers.