By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Local observers and opposition parties question country’s readiness to organise diaspora voting at the early elections that may take place in May or June.
They argue that the efforts to include the diaspora in the vote, pushed by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, may backfire and lead to endless quarrels over the validity of the ballots cast abroad.
According to changes to the electoral code adopted by the government on Tuesday, the diaspora will elect three legislators in the 120 seat parliament. One will come from Europe and Africa, one from the Americas and one from Australia and Asia.
The parliament speaker announced that the proposed changes will enter parliament on March 15 “with or without the opposition’s” participation in the parliament’s work.
“There are several key flaws in the legislation” that “may bring the legitimacy of the elected legislators under question,” says Darko Aleksov, the head of the local association “MOST”, an NGO that has provided the majority of domestic observers at all past elections in the country.
He points out that Macedonia has an insufficient number of embassies and consulates abroad to use for the diaspora vote and that this may not allow all diaspora members an equal chance to cast their votes.
In addition, Aleksov says that the lack of accurate data on how many Macedonians live abroad and how many are eligible to vote pose problems.
The State Agency for Emigrants believes that from 1945 to 1990 about half a million Macedonians left the country and that in the last 16 years another 300,000 emigrated.
However, they say that this figure is not accurate and that getting exact numbers is impossible without computerised border crossings recording who goes in and out.
According to the proposed law changes, most of the burden for organising the vote abroad will fall upon the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which will first print ads in foreign newspapers calling upon the diaspora to vote and then provide workers from the administration who will participate in the local ballot committees that oversee the voting and count the votes.
Meanwhile, the country’s main opposition, the Social Democrats, say they would prefer that the workers tasked with counting the diaspora votes be party representatives, as they believe there is a risk of fraud by the ruling VMRO DPMNE party if state workers are used.
Andrej Petrov, the secretary general of the Social Democrats, says that in principle they are not against the diaspora vote.
“But there are many questions to be answered regarding the electoral code,” he says, “from the issue of who may run in elections to the issue who controls the whole process”.
Macedonia’s Albanians also have objections to the plans to include the diaspora in the polls. Albanians make up one quarter of Macedonia’s population of two million, but there are no exact figures of how many Albanians from Macedonia live abroad.
Arianit Hoxha, the spokesperson of the Albanian opposition New Democracy Party, says their concern is “whether the voting abroad will include the ethnic Albanians originating from Macedonia”.
Giving an example of why the party is concerned, he says that according to their information, many Albanians in Australia have had trouble getting Macedonian passports.
Macedonia’s ruling party and the opposition agreed to call early elections after several weeks of an opposition parliament boycott, but cannot agree on a date for the vote.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski accepted the opposition’s demand for snap polls but insisted they be held as early as possible, while the Social Democrats say that if they are held too quickly, there will be questions about the poll’s fairness.