Situation in Macedonia worsens as protesters storm parliament

Wed 3 May 2017

Situation in Macedonia worsens as protesters storm parliament

After tumultuous weeks in Macedonian politics, the election of a new parliament speaker has led to more instability rather than a new government. During the announcement of the new speaker elected by a majority of 67 MPs in the 120 MP parliament, Zoran Zaev, leader of the new coalition and SDSM party, was attacked by protesters who stormed the Macedonian Parliament. Zaev was not the only victim, as the protesters attacked anyone from the opposition and ended up injuring at least many people among which: Zaev, the head of the DPA-movement for reforms; Zijadin Sela, Radmila Sekerinska, former social democratic prime minister and another MP. Just before the attack the new speaker Talat Xhaferi was elected by the parliament.

Election aftermath

The violence follows a period in which the Macedonian government was in deadlock due to the President refusing to give the mandate to form a government to SDSM, the opposition party. On December 11th 2016, the early parliamentary elections in the country led to a tie between the SDSM and the ruling party, VMRO DPMNE. The president; Gjorge Ivanov, originally from the VMRO DPMNE party, first gave the mandate to Nikola Gruevski, the VMRO DPMNE party leader. Nevertheless, Gruevski was not able to form a government. Due to this, Ivanov stated that whoever was able to collect enough signatures to prove a parliamentary majority would get the mandate. Zaev was able to form a government with the ethnic Albanian parties resulting in a majority of 67 MPs out of the 120 seats in parliament. Due to Zaev’s corporation with the Albanian parties, Ivanov refused to hand him the mandate stating that Zaev would destroy the country.

Protests

On Monday February 27th protests against the new coalition broke out. Many people took to the streets because of a deal Zaev struck with his coalition parties to make Albanian the second official language in the country. In the following days, thousands of members and supporters of the former ruling party, VMRO DPMNE continued their protests. Although it was claimed that the rallies were not supported by political parties, demonstrators proceeded to the VMRO DPMNE party headquarters to ask the party leadership to join them. As this standoff was leading to increasing tensions, international leaders such as European Council president; Donald Tusk urged President Ivanov to offer the mandate to Zoran Zaev.

Elections of a new parliament speaker

Since the president continued to refuse to hand the mandate to Zaev, it was announced on 16 March that the current provisional speaker, Trajko Beljanoski, was expected to resume the constitutive session in the assembly. Eventually on the 27th of March, the MPs discussed the election of a new speaker; until a new speaker is chosen, the new government is not able to take office. During these proceedings, members of the VMRO DPMNE party tried to delay the process as much as possible by going into discussion with each other and making long speeches. Eventually the SDSM filed a motion to have direct voting for the election of Talat Xhaferi as the new speaker. On April 10th, while the opposition-led majority of the parliament continued to press for Talat Xhaferi as the new speaker, media outlets and organizations close to the VMRO DPMNE continued threatening campaigns, calling on supporters to mobilise themselves.

All these frictions have eventually led to the happenings on April 27th, when the parliament was stormed by protesters due to the election of Talat Xhaferi as the new parliament speaker. Following the violence in parliament, President Ivanov called for calm saying: “I call upon the leaders of the parliamentary parties to come to my office tomorrow for a leaders meeting so that we can overcome this condition”. He initially did not condemn the violence until May 1st when he stated that he “condemns any political and physical violence… and stressed that solutions must be sought only through dialogue”. On that same day he met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee which resulted in a softened position from Ivanov. He even said that the problems blocking the new government could be overcome if the new government is able to present strong guarantees for the preservation of the country’s character, stating that “if there is a true leadership by the heads of the parliamentary parties, the legal and political obstacles towards determining the mandate to form the government can be overcome”. He finally asked the US to “help the obstacles to be removed and allow the parliamentary majority to get the mandate”.

In principle, the new majority is able to elect a government even without the presidential mandate. Nevertheless, new parliament speaker Xhaferi stated that he wished to follow the formalities and wants to give the president one last chance to change his mind by informing him, through a letter, that Zaev commands majority support in the chamber.