Macedonia: Electioneering Delays Reforms

The battle for votes in a general election scheduled for next year is holding up implementation of a deal on peace for Macedonia.

Macedonia: Electioneering Delays Reforms

The battle for votes in a general election scheduled for next year is holding up implementation of a deal on peace for Macedonia.

Political squabbling over the Macedonian peace plan, fuelled by the approach of a general election, is holding up implementation of the accord. There are some fears that the delay could even lead to new outbreaks of ethnic violence that has plagued Macedonia for much of this year.

The Ohrid accord, adopted by the country's parliament on November 17, seeks to redress the grievances of Macedonia's Albanian minority. It calls for the reform of local government, the police and parliament; improvements in the status of the Albanian language; as well as the return of refugees to their homes.

After pledging they would meet these obligations, politicians of all parties then launched into a series of filibustering debates over the substance of the accord. Local government reforms along with plans for a census, which were supposed to be introduced in October, have still not been agreed.

The problem appears to be that some Macedonian political parties fear that if they are seen to be too enthusiastic about implementing the provisions of the accord - which are unpopular with many ordinary Macedonians - they risk alienating their supporters in the build-up to next year's general election.

Concerned over the influence the forthcoming ballot - a key provision of the accord - was having on efforts to introduce the peace plan, the president of the parliament, Stojan Andov, announced this week that he would postpone the February polling date.

The problems being encountered in implementing the provisions of the accord mirror those that held up its signing. It took months of intensive debate before the various parties came to an agreement over the treaty - and only after intense international pressure.

And now instead of putting its provisions in place, politicians appear to be abandoning the task. Instead, they're devoting a lot of the time to arguing with each other over how to cure the country of its ills - which is seen by analysts as blatant electioneering.

One example of the political bickering came with the decision of the Socialist Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM, to resign from the government not long after the accord was passed in parliament. Many observers believe the party left the ruling coalition in order to prepare for the elections.

The party's move provoked a storm of protest. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski accused it of shirking responsibilities imposed by the peace accord. Cedo Kralevski, coordinator of the VMRO-DPMNE parliamentary group, claimed the party "acted childishly in an effort to boost its image ".

So far, then, there has been little progress in implementing the accord, and there appears to be little political will to do so.

Unofficial sources said the parties had now reached a consensus to bring the delayed local government reforms before parliament next week. But other elements of the agreement, such as the return of displaced persons, could prove more difficult.

Further delay in introducing such elements of the accord could provoke armed groups to resume fighting. But the politicians appear to think this is a risk worth taking in pursuit of their electoral ambitions.

Gordana Stojanovska Icevska is the deputy editor-in-chief of Skopje based weekly Kapital.

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