By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Two days before it was scheduled to start, North Macedonia’s governing and opposition parties have agreed to postpone the long-awaited census for five months so that census takers and the wider population can get vaccinated first.
The headcount will be postponed to September, and, in order to separate the two processes, scheduled local elections will be also postponed from early to late October.
The decision foillowed Monday’s meeting between the Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, and the head of the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party, Hristijan Mickoski.
“We were seeking a solution in the interests of citizens and the state. I am glad that this has happened,” Zaev told the media after the meeting.
For the delay to be put into effect, parliament will have to act fast and in the next two days change the Law on the Census. Meanwhile, the online headcount of members of the diaspora, which began in early March, will continue, the two party leaders agreed.
While the government conceded to opposition demands for a postponement of the headcount on health grounds, opposition leader Mickoski in return promised that his MPs will now stop blocking the work of parliament by refusing to show up for a quorum.
“VMRO DPMNE will participate in parliament’s work on all reform and EU-sought bills, as well as on all bills intended for dealing with this crisis,” Mickoslki told the media.
Ever since the early general elections held last summer, Zaev’s narrow majority in parliament of 62 out of 120 MPs has had a hard time creating a quorum at plenary sessions.
When ruling majority MPs called in sick from COVID-19, the opposition refused to enter the plenary chamber and provide the needed quorum for the sessions to start or resume.
Until yesterday, the government and opposition seemed entrenched in their stands. The government insisted that the long-overdue census, which has not been carried out since 2002, must be held, while the opposition insisted on postponement, claiming that its outcome would be rigged but later also citing health reasons, as the third wave of coronavirus picked up.
Although the government planned to start mass vaccination at the start of this year, delays in the arrival of vaccines have prevented this.
The country got its first bigger shipment of 24,000 AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX mechanism, only on Sunday. It plans to start giving jabs on Wednesday.
During April and May, the government expects to receive some 350,000 vaccines through various sources. It hopes to get enough vaccines to inoculate about a million people, or roughly half of the population, in a few months.