By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
With the required majority for such changes in parliament still in the balance, Macedonia’s government has launched the legal procedure for adoption of the historic ‘name’ agreement with Greece.
At an extraordinary session on Monday, Macedonia’s Social Democrat-led government adopted a motion on making constitutional changes to change the country’s name into the Republic of North Macedonia.
“There are four substantial changes to the [Macedonian Constitution], that the government proposed to parliament,” the government’s spokesperson, Mile Bosnjakovski, told a press conference.
Тhe first change will be the addition of the adjective ‘North’ to the name of the country, as stipulated in the ‘name’ agreement.
The second change envisages changes in the Constitution’s introductory statement that would reaffirm the foundations of Macedonia’s statehood in more detail, Bosnjakovski explained.
The third change stipulates that the country would accent its guarantees for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbouring countries.
The last change concerns the articles that determine the care of the country for its diaspora.
In the section regarding the diaspora, Bosnjakovski explained that the country will be obligated to take care of the rights “of the Macedonian people and of all the citizens of the country who reside abroad,” without “interfering in the sovereign rights of other countries and their internal affairs, in any forum and for any reason.”
Once parliament receives the government motion, expected on Tuesday, it will schedule a plenary session and a session of its Committee on Constitutional Matters.
Sources from the main ruling Social Democrats told BIRN earlier on Monday that the launch of the procedure was not a signal that the ruling parties had secured the two-thirds majority in parliament that is needed for constitutional changes.
“This is part of our attempt to speed up the legal procedures in case we secure a majority… while the talks [with opposition MPs] are still ongoing” one source said.
“If the motion fails in parliament during the first reading, the parliament will dis-assemble and we will have early elections,” the same source added.
Following the September 30 referendum, which was rendered legally invalid due to the low turnout – despite the high level of support among those voted for the deal – the ruling parties launched talks with their opposition counterparts in a final attempt to persuade them to support the agreement in parliament and avoid early elections.
The governing coalition, led by the Social Democrats and its supporters among smaller parties, has the backing of 71 of the 120 MPs in the chamber.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev needs the support of at least nine more MPs from the ranks of the opposition bloc, led by the nationalist VMRO DPMNE party.
Parliament’s rulebook gives the MPs a maximum of ten days to discuss the government motion for constitutional changes, after which they will have to vote.
Bosnjakovski refused to speculate on deadlines or the outcome of the vote.
“We will see that very soon when the motion will be submitted to the plenary session and to the vote. For the procedure [for constitutional changes in parliament] to begin, it should be endorsed by a two-thirds majority”, he said.
If MPs approve it, the government can prepare the actual draft constitutional amendments and submit them to a repeat vote.
Amid official silence about the talks on gaining a majority, the ruling parties on Monday mentioned October 15 as the unofficial deadline for parliament to vote.
If the government motion is not approved then, the same sources said the majority would immediately dissolve the parliament and set an early general election.
Prime Minister Zaev initially said this could be held as soon as November 25, as at least 45 days have to pass between the dissolution of the parliament and the polls.
The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, on Thursday made it clear that he would prefer a two-thirds majority in parliament for the constitutional changes over early elections in Macedonia.
In a statement to an Austrian newspaper, Johannes Hahn said that implementation of the “name” agreement was “in the country’s interest, not in the interest of parties and politicians. So, how to secure the votes? I believe in the combination of the Balkan and rational approach”.
While talks with opposition MPs and the leadership are ongoing behind closed doors, official statements from both sides suggest they are far from reaching common ground over the elections.
Over the weekend, VMRO DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski – whose party insists that the agreement with Greece is harmful – gave two options to the government, either to ditch the agreement with Greece and face the opposition at early elections immediately, or fulfil several other preconditions, such as on the formation of a technical government and the resignation of the Prime Minister at 100 days before the polls.
Mickoski over the weekend also increased the party’s demands and, besides seeking a new Chief Public Prosecutor and a special commission to investigate alleged irregularities during the referendum, also wanted the formation of a new Special Prosecution after the elections, claiming that the existing one has politically persecuted his party.
The ruling party called this a stalling tactic and accused the opposition party of secretly trying to bargain for the amnesty of its former leader, Nikola Gruevski.
The Special Prosecution was formed in 2015 as part of an EU-sponsored crisis agreement between the then ruling VMRO DPMNE party and the then opposition Social Democrats.
It was tasked with investigating allegations of high-level crimes contained in numerous wiretapped telephone recordings revealed by the then opposition SDSM.
Former VMRO DPMNE leader and former prime minister Gruevski and many of his former top associates are now under numerous investigations and trials instigated by the SJO.