By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
In what looked like a closely coordinated move, the junior partner in the coalition government in North Macedonia, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party, on Thursday submitted thousands of amendments to the proposed change to the electoral law.
The motion to change the law, submitted by smaller parties but supported by the main ruling Social Democratic Union, SDSM, envisages scrapping the current six electoral districts in favour of one single unit.
The two parties have submitted more than 6,000 amendments to the motion, however. The DUI submitted 5,000 while the rest came from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party.
This means that the proposed changes will almost certainly not pass ahead of early general elections due on April 12. Parliament must disband 60 days ahead of the elections, in February.
Although the Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, on Thursday said the planned changes were the “best way of improving democracy”, the mainly ethnic Albanian DUI clearly disagreed.
It justified its filibustering move by arguing that “a one-sided change to the election model just few months ahead of the elections could create a dangerous precedent”.
VMRO DPMNE issued a similar statement, saying that such “changes should be made with a wide political consensus and as far away as possible from actual elections”.
Under the current six-district proportional system, introduced in 2002, each unit elects 20 legislators from party lists of 20 candidates.
The system strongly favours the dominant parties and often costs smaller parties seats. Many smaller parties have been demanding reform for years, arguing that a single electoral unit would make it fairer and easier for them to pick up some seats.
VMRO DPMNE on Thursday also filed 970 amendments to the draft law on the judicial academy and more than 4,000 amendments to the draft law on the prosecution, insisting that the governing Social Democrats just wanted these laws passed to control the judiciary.
In reality, both laws are part of EU-sought judicial reforms. The latter law is intended to resolve the status of the country’s Special Prosecution, the body that has spearheaded the fight against high-level crime, by incorporating it into the regular prosecution.
In its reaction on Friday, the Social Democrats urged both parties to “withdraw their amendments in the name of democracy and the rule of law”.
The DUI’s role in submitting a mass of amendments adds weight to reports about significant rifts within the ruling alliance that came to power in mid-2017.
Last week, the two ruling parties locked horns over advice sent by the Venice Commission on the country’s new Language Law which expands the use of the Albanian language. The advisory body to the Council of Europe warned that the law went too far and that its implementation might hamper the work of the judiciary,
While the Social Democrats took the warning seriously, the DUI bitterly opposed making any changes at all to the language law.