By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The EU and US are expected on Friday to present their joint assessment of whether Macedonia is ready to face snap elections on April 24, as the government wants.
A joint EU and US assessment of whether Macedonia is ready to go into early elections is expected to influence a decision on whether to pursue an April 24 election date – or postpone polls until all reform priorities envisaged in last summer’s EU-brokered crisis accord are met.
“On one hand, April 24 is part of the [Przino summer crisis] agreement as a date for the early elections, but on the other hand there have been many delays in the implementation of Przino,” Aivo Orav, the EU ambassador to Macedonia, said in Skopje on Thursday.
On January 29, Orav and US Ambassador Jess Baily said in Skopje that more work needed to be done before Macedonia faced April elections, announcing a forthcoming assessment on the state of the reforms.
The diplomats pointed to the need for a fully staffed and funded State Election Commission that would carry out a credible cleanup of the electoral roll, “including field checks”, an agreement on media reforms that would allow “objective and unbiased” reporting, measures to separate state and political party activities and procedures to prohibit political pressure on state employees.
They made their move after the ruling parties in January unilaterally pushed ahead with April 24 election date – in spite of concern that the opposition might boycott the polls if the promised reforms remained unfulfilled.
While awaiting the joint assessment, details of the previously announced meeting between Macedonia’s politicians and the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn are still unknown. It is not yet clear when it will take place and whether it will be in Skopje or Brussels.
The meeting should take place this or next week and should hopefully bring both government and opposition to a deal on elections.
Meanwhile, ongoing EU-brokered talks in Skopje on media reforms are moving slowly. After two days of talks on Wednesday and Thursday, the EU mediator in the parlays, Peter Vanhoutte, on Thursday tweeted that there is still no deal but that he remained optimistic.
Another key point in the crisis accord, the purification of the electoral roll that many observers say is unusually large and may contain many fictive voters, has begun under the instructions of the State Electoral Commission.
The Commission tasked IT companies to cross reference voter’s data from ten institutions and will later conduct field checks of voters, from door to door. However, uncertainty remains over the quality of the operation and the tight time frame.
The political crisis in Macedonia escalated last February, when the opposition started releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which it said showed that recently resigned Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers.
The opposition insists that the tapes contain incriminating evidence against many senior officials, including proof of high-level corruption, the government grip’s on the judiciary, prosecution, businesses and media, politically-motivated arrests and jailing, electoral violations and even an attempted cover-up of a murder of a man by a police officer.
Gruevski, who has held power since 2006, and who resigned last month as part of the crisis accord, says the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilize the country.