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Coalition Calls Shaky Truce For Macedonian Presidential Poll

Macedonia's governing coalition was recently saved at a meeting at a Skopje restaurant. But after October's presidential election campaign is over, it will take more than shared cups of coffee to keep the two main parties together.
By Iso Rusi

As the campaigning begins ahead of October 31 presidential elections here, deputies from Macedonia's two main coalition partners are still at odds, and the end of voting will not end the dispute between them.

The two - the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) - only narrowly avoided collapsing the coalition and the government at the last parliamentary session on September 22.

The trouble began on September 2 with a disputed vote in parliament on that day's dismissal of the President of the State Electoral Commission, Liljana Ristova Ingilizova, and two of her commission members.

The opposition opposed the dismissal, only to be cheered later that afternoon, when Parliament Speaker and DA member Samo Klimovski - who had not been at the session - told a press conference that the house procedure had not been followed.

But his warning that the DA was ready to challenge the decision in the Constitutional Court, effectively sided the DA with the opposition. Surprised, VMRO-DPMNE, the lead party in the coalition, agreed to another round of voting, but hit back the next day when their membership in parliament demanded Klimovski's resignation.

With the coalition party leaders out of the country at the time, this 'short circuit' in the government's machinery was put down to nervousness on the party of the temporarily leaderless deputies.

It reportedly took a top-level meeting between two five-strong delegations from both sides, headed by VMRO-DPMNE premier Ljubco Georgievski and the DA's presidential candidate, Vasil Tupurkovski, to settle the row. Held in the favourite haunt of Macedonian politicians, the Pizzeria Galija, the two sides agreed over coffee to call a fresh vote on the dismissals if the VMRO-DPMNE would withdraw its call for the speaker's resignation.

The peace was short-lived, and the two erstwhile partners were soon at odds in the parliament again. This time the row was over a Macedonian-Greek accord on the construction of a oil pipeline between Thessaloniki in Greece and the Macedonian capital Skopje, part of a wider deal on the purchase of the formerly state owned Skopje OKTA Refinery.

Ratified by the Parliament in July, outgoing Macedonian president Kiro Gligorov used his veto and refused to sign the decree enacting the deal. Under the constitution the bill had to go back for a new debate in parliament of Macedonia, the parliament should once again debate the same law, and the President is to sign the decree on its coming into force.

Confronted with the rejected bill at the September 17 session, VMRO-DPMNE deputies insisted that Gligorov give his assent to the bill, as their party leader and premier had personally promised Greek prime minister Costas Simitis at a summit meeting that month that the bill would be enacted.

But after eight hours of heated debate and despite VMRO-DPMNE protests, Speaker Klimovski interrupted the session, saying the deputies were tired. The VMRO-DPMNE's deputies read that decision, as reluctance on their part to support the ratification, as without DA support the bill would fail.

Grave charges were exchanged. VMRO-DPMNE's coordinator of parliamentary deputies, Ljuben Paunovski, announced that the call for Klimovski's resignation would be reactivated. In the meantime a VMRO-DPMNE representative on the new State Electoral Commission successfully called on the commission to postpone formal approval of DA chief Tupurkovski's presidential candidacy.

The VMRO-DPMNE claim that Tupurkovski did not meet a condition that he has lived at least 10 out of the last 15 years in Macedonia. Tupurkovski served for six years as Macedonia's representative to Belgrade when the state was part of the former Yugoslavia for six years. But since Macedonia declared independence in the autumn of 1990, according to the VMRO-DPMNE's man on the Commission, Tupurkovski was technically living in a foreign state for part of the time.

Naturally, this is intended as a clear message to Tupurkovski and his party - either the DA votes for the inter-state agreement, or the DA loses its presidential candidate.

The point was taken, and on September 22, the parliament ratified the agreement, despite an earlier threat from by the DA deputies that they would defy their coalition partners' wishes and vote no.

But they also accepted that the collapse of the coalition and thus the government would not only damage the chances of the DA's presidential candidate, would also force them into a parliamentary election soon afterward.

Faced with this political apocalypse, Georgievski and Tupurkovski appear to have had another coffee in the Galija and called a temporary truce for the duration of the vote. But few expect the frail coalition to survive for very long after the presidential elections.

Iso Rusi is a journalist in Skopje.

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