Macedonia: Curtain to Fall on Georgievski?

There's growing speculation that the former Macedonian strongman is set to bow out of politics.

Macedonia: Curtain to Fall on Georgievski?

There's growing speculation that the former Macedonian strongman is set to bow out of politics.

Intense debate is raging over the future of Ljubco Georgievski, the once powerful leader of Macedonia, following reports that he's likely to withdraw from party politics.

Georgievski's four-year reign as prime minister ended in 2002 when his VMRO-DPMNE coalition was heavily defeated in a parliamentary election. He stayed on as leader of the opposition but on March 23 Macedonia's biggest circulation newspaper, Dnevnik, announced he now planned to step down from his post as VMRO-DPMNE president.

The title's editor in chief, Branko Gerovski, was in no doubt that Georgievski meant it. "This is first hand information," he told IWPR. "The intention of the VMRO-DPMNE leader to resign is serious. My information is that his decision is firm and not some kind of manoeuvre."

Former minister of finance Nikola Gruevski, now one of the VMRO-DPMNE's two vice-presidents, said Georgievski had offered him the position of party leader. "I refused it because as a politician he has better qualities than me," Gruevski said.

Marjan Gorcev, the party's other vice-president, challenged Gruevski's remarks. "I have no information that the president of the party wants to resign. I believe these are only tensions before the party congress (in May). Our basic membership greatly supports Georgievski, " he said.

Georgievski would neither confirm nor deny that he was planning to resign. "For 12 years now I have been the leader of the VMRO. It's normal (to step down) but there are two months before the congress - so it's still too early to make a decision," he told reporters during a visit to Sofia this week.

The 37-year-old Georgievski has been president of VMRO-DPMNE since it was founded in 1990. He was prime minister from 1998-2002, during which time he survived several party revolts and managed to eliminate most of his oldest associates from top party positions.

Since last year's election, charges of corruption in office have been heaped on Georgievski's former administration.

The resignation question has split Macedonian public opinion. Some view it as a matter of conscience following massive losses in the 2002 ballot.

Others believe it resulted from pressure by the international community, which became infuriated with Georgievski`s hard line nationalist policies in office.

Mane Jakovlevski, president of the VMRO-DPMNE diaspora committee for Europe and a founder of the party, said it was time for him to quit, "He made big mistakes; he shamed the membership and the party itself."

Some reports in the media said there had been threats against Georgievski's life by members of the Macedonian diaspora who alleged their donations had been embezzled by the party.

Gorcev denied the claims. "We have not received money from anybody," he said. "We are a poor party because VMRO-DPMNE while in power did not place its members as managers of the big public companies in order to help the party financially. "

Jakovlevski insists his claims can be substantiated, "We have proof that we donated lots of money to VMRO-DPMNE's account. Georgievski is scared of the fact that state organs could arrest him. However, Macedonians from the diaspora do not threaten Georgievski's life because he has already committed political suicide."

Georgievski has repeatedly denied that he has ever been involved in corrupt practices.

Nobody can guess what direction events will take within VMRO-DPMNE. After the elections, many cadre changes took place, and several of its top people, including the secretary general of the party, are awaiting trial for serious criminal offences.

General party opinion is that whoever might become head of VMRO-DPMNE would find it hard to break with Georgievski 's policies.

"After the elections VMRO-DPMNE found itself in an extremely difficult situation, " Gerovski said. "The crisis within the party (caused primarily by the electoral defeat and the corruption charges faced by several high-ranking officials) will last a long time whatever happens at the congress."

He said that VMRO-DPMNE had always been a movement geared towards the independence of Macedonia and the challenge now is to turn it into a classic right-wing party.

Gerovski believes that this could be done with a new ideological platform and a fundamental review of party membership, clearing out those who have a long history of corruption. Both, he admits, would be difficult.

Jasminka Janeva is a journalist with the daily Macedonia Denes and weekly Denes newspapers.

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