EU and US urge action as Macedonia vote delayed again

Protests continue over corruption and presidential pardons for powerful figures

A protester uses an improvised slingshot to throw paint-filled balloons towards the parliament building during an anti-government protest in Skopje. Photograph: Robert Atanasovski/AFP/Getty Images

A protester uses an improvised slingshot to throw paint-filled balloons towards the parliament building during an anti-government protest in Skopje. Photograph: Robert Atanasovski/AFP/Getty Images

 

Macedonia has again postponed early parliamentary elections, in a move that was welcomed by the European Union but seen by many others as a sign of deepening political chaos in a Balkan state rocked by scandals and street protests.

Macedonian deputies voted to put off elections planned for June 5th, after the country’s constitutional court ordered a halt to preparations for the ballot while it ruled on whether the dissolution of parliament last month had been legal.

No new date was announced for elections that had already been postponed once, from April to June, due to claims from the main opposition party and fears voiced by the European Union and United States that a free and fair ballot was impossible.

The populist government of Nikola Gruevski stepped down earlier this year as part of a western-brokered deal to end a rumbling crisis, but critics say he failed to pass media and election reforms that were vital for the country’s democracy.

The crisis deepened further, and three of four main political parties vowed to boycott the June ballot, after Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov last month pardoned dozens of powerful figures who were under investigation in a sprawling crime, corruption and spying scandal.

Mr Gruevski and allies at first insisted the vote should go ahead, but accepted a second postponement amid growing pressure from major western governments that warn that Macedonia’s hopes of joining EU are Nato are at risk.

The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and its enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, welcomed the postponement of an election “the conditions for which were not there”.

“This is a renewed opportunity for the country to address a number of serious issues at the heart of the prolonged political crisis. The way forward must be defined by all main political parties together,” they said in a joint statement.

“The parties must also urgently address the serious concerns about President Ivanov’s pardoning of a number of officials [which] should be rescinded without delay to preserve the principle of accountability, counteract serious concerns about impunity and avoid selective justice,” they added.

Visiting Skopje on Thursday, US state department official Hoyt Brian Yee urged Macedonia’s leaders to “act urgently to repair the damage done by these pardons”.

Thousands of Macedonians have marched regularly through their capital, Skopje, and other towns and cities to protest against Mr Ivanov’s sweeping amnesty and what they see as the corruption and irresponsibility of a venal ruling elite.

Demonstrators in Skopje gather most evenings outside the office of Macedonia’s special prosecutor, to show support for her team’s investigations into influential figures who are accused of a range of crimes on the basis of secret wiretaps leaked last year.