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Macedonia Faces Fresh Turmoil as PM Quits

Premier’s unexpected resignation may lead to re-alignment in Macedonian politics.
By Ana Petruseva

Macedonia braced itself for a new bout of political turbulence this week after parliament confirmed the resignation of Prime Minister Hari Kostov, which according to the constitution, means the entire government has also resigned.

Kostov quit on November 15, accusing his Albanian partners in government in the Democratic Party for integration, DUI, of blocking economic reforms, corruption and nepotism.

Analysts say the resignation threatens to plunge the Balkan state into political turmoil, as the ruling parties in the last administration thrash out the terms for forming a new cabinet.

In the meantime, the outgoing government will continue to carry out essential tasks under the chair of the current deputy prime ministers.

The Social Democrats, SDSM, the main party in government, will now bring forward their party congress to next week, in order elect a new party leader who will probably also serve as prime minister.

The SDSM has been under caretaker stewards since April, when Branko Crvenkovski left his posts as party chief and premier to become Macedonia’s president.

Kostov’s resignation directly followed a controversial referendum campaign aimed at reversing decentralisation laws that granted minority Albanians greater regional power.

Western governments praised the Balkan state after most voters shunned calls from the nationalist-led opposition and ignored the plebiscite, causing it to fail.

Explaining his resignation, Kostov accused the DUI of putting its party interests ahead of those of the government and of resorting to blackmail.

“They promote only their own national and party goals, including nepotism and corrupt behaviour,” he said.

“I am not ready to put up with inefficient work in the government, including placing conditions on - and blocking - the reform process in politics and above all in the economic field.”

The former manager of Macedonia’s biggest bank, Komercijalna Banka, he entered politics only in 2002, when the SDSM took power, at first as interior minister.

Never a party member of the SDSM, Kostov was close to Crvenkovski, which explains why the party accepted him as a new head of government when Crvenkovski left the post.

Many interpreted Kostov’s appointment as a sign that long-awaited economic reforms that had stalled over the previous decade would finally be put into place.

But instead of focusing on the impoverished economy, Kostov became embroiled in brokering deals between the SDSM and DUI over the outstanding problems from the 2001 Ohrid peace deal, such as decentralisation and increased representation for Albanians in public administration.

Kostov’s attempts to sack some government ministers also failed, after they met fierce opposition from the ruling parties.

“Kostov did not have enough room to manoeuvre,” Georgi Barbarovski, editor of the daily newspaper Vreme told IWPR.

“He did not enjoy the full backing of the SDSM. If they had backed him completely in his efforts he would have been able to solve the problems.”

The DUI says Kostov’s resignation will only delay reforms. The party rejected the ex-premier’s charges but said it would not let them stand in the way of its ties with its coalition partners.

“We do not expect this resignation to affect relations with the SDSM,” Ermira Mehmeti, spokeswoman for the DUI, told IWPR.

SDSM sources told IWPR the party will probably hold a congress next week to elect a new leader who will probably also serve as prime minister.

Most likely candidates for the leadership are Radmila Sekerinska, now deputy prime minister, in charge of European integration, and Vlado Buckovski, the defence minister. Both are currently vice-presidents of the SDSM.

The party has not decided whether the new party leader will also hold the position of premier, or whether this post and that of party chief will now be split.

“Once the SDSM gets a leader it will be good for the coalition and for the country,” Rafiz Aliti, vice-president of the DUI, told IWPR. “I believe the one they choose will be the next premier as well.”

But while the DUI is taking the line of “business as usual” with the SDSM, many believe Kostov’s resignation will force the SDSM to re-examine its relations with its Albanian partner.

Michael Sahlin, EU special representative in Macedonia, told IWPR that the resignation was an opportunity for the SDSM “to re-engage in a discussion with its coalition partners on creating a new platform of cooperation and sharing responsibility.”

The Ohrid agreement, Sahlin added, was not the only concern, “As a result of this resignation I would like to see the quick delivery by the government of a list of priorities, in order to re-energise the reform process.”

A SDSM government source agreed that the resignation called for “a fresh start”. The same source added, “We have to get things out in the open with the DUI.”

Analysts say Kostov’s unusually frank and public criticism of the DUI marked a departure from normal practice in a government which usually tries to keep internal rifts and rows hidden from public view.

“The DUI were doing what they wanted because the SDSM tolerated this,” Georgi Barbarovski told IWPR. “After this, I expect that DUI to carry on with this policy, but perhaps in a more moderate, less arrogant way.”

Analyst Branko Trickovski agrees that Kostov`s resignation may offer a partial solution to some of the former government’s difficulties. He says it may trigger a resolution of the SDSM’s leadership problem and also pave the way for a new prime minister who enjoys the full backing of a main political party.

“The new prime minister will have better working conditions,” Trickovski told IWPR. “He will be working in a new coalition atmosphere, where the air has been more or less cleared by Kostov’s resignation.”

Boris Georgievski is a journalist with the daily Utrinski vesnik. Ana Petruseva is IWPR Macedonia`s project manager.

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