By Darko Duridanski
Albanian party’s threat to quit faces crucial test as ruling party pushes on with a law that it bitterly opposes.
A controversial law concerning the rights of members of the Macedonian armed forces and their families was put before parliament on Friday.
The draft law has provoked a serious crisis in the Macedonian government between the main ruling VMRO-DPMNE and its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which has threatened to leave the government over the issue.
The DUI has said that it will quit the coalition if the same rights and privileges are not extended to members of Albanian guerilla forces that fought in the 2001 conflict.
“If our amendments are not accepted and the law on the rights of the security forces is passed, we will take into consideration all the options that we have,” Bujar Osmani, the DUI spokesperson, said.
The draft law provides a range of privileges for members of the armed forces that fought in 2001, their families, and also those of deceased fighters.
The draft law encompasses the period from January 1 until December 31, 2001 and covers all those who participated in defending the country.
It specifically states that members of paramilitary groups are not entitled to the privileges in question.
Some of the privileges that the draft law addresses are free health services, employment rights, rights to free education, housing and family pensions, various others financial compensations, honors, medals and other issues.
The DUI said that the eventual fall of the coalition does not necessarily mean early general elections, as it says it could form a new parliamentary majority with the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, SDSM, and the second largest Albanian party, the DPA.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, has admitted that his government is in crisis, adding that if DUI wants early elections, his party is ready for them.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE has led the government for the last six years and has been in coalition with the DUI for the last four, since 2008.
By tradition, Macedonian governments include one major political party representing the ethnic Albanian community, which makes up about 25 per cent of the population of 2.1 million.
The latest crisis erupted 10 days ago after the Defence Minister, Fatmir Besimi, an ethnic Albanian, accompanied by other ethnic Albanian ministers and persons in army uniforms, laid flowers before monument to Albanian guerilla fighters killed in the 2001 conflict in Slupcane, a village near the northern town of Kumanovo.
The act outraged many Macedonians, and President Gjorgje Ivanov and Prime Minister Gruevski both criticized Besimi.
Tensions increased after VMRO DPMNE then announced that it would put before parliament the draft law increasing the rights and privileges of members of the Macedonian military.