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Rapporteurs urge political forces in Skopje to reach an agreement before early elections

Lise Christoffersen (Norway, SOC) and Valeriu Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for post-monitoring dialogue with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, ending a visit to the country, have urged political forces in Skopje to reach an agreement before early elections.

The co-rapporteurs, making their first fact-finding visit to Skopje, Tetovo and Gostivar from 15 to 18 February, said the country was going through one the most serious political crises since 2001.

“The Przno Agreement, reached by the four main political parties in June and July 2015, was an unprecedented moment for the country, which is marked by profound polarization. We now encourage all parties to fully implement this Agreement. Our discussions showed that all parties remain committed to implementing it, though some delays were noted on certain issues.

There is no doubt that the Przno Agreement included important positive steps for the improvement of the electoral framework and the continuation of the reform process. This Agreement provides in particular for the revised composition and enhanced competencies of the State Electoral Commission, the upgrading of the electoral code last November, and action to clean up the voters’ list, which remains a crucial issue.

The resignation of the Prime Minister in January and the setting-up of a technical government, where two key ministries (the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs) are held by opposition members, should pave the way to the organisation of early elections.

The creation of a ‘Special Prosecutor for Crimes Related to and Arising from the Content of the Illegal Interception of Communications’ is also an important move which we welcome. We now expect the Special Prosecutor to carry out a fair and thorough investigation, free from political and any other interference, and the judiciary to bring this process to its conclusion.

All sides agree that early elections are the only way out of the political crisis. From the discussions we had with the political leaders involved, the competent ministries, the State Electoral Commission and others, we understand that there are different views about the state and degree of implementation of the Agreement. A number of reports are still under preparation to assess the pre-electoral environment. By 24 February 2016, at the end of this evaluation process, parliamentarians – who have been given a mandate by their citizens – will weigh all the arguments and take the final decision on steps to convoke early elections as previously agreed, which all parties hope and expect will be free and fair.

We also remind all political parties that they agreed, after election day, to address the systemic problems revealed by this political crisis and to implement the urgent reforms identified by the European Commission, which echo the long-standing recommendations made by the Parliamentary Assembly. Areas where reform is needed include the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and the freedom of the media. We invite the authorities to make themselves available to initiate and support these measures.

Finally, recalling that the organisation of early elections has been agreed by all political forces, we urge them not to miss this opportunity, to further negotiate and to compromise in order to reach a point where meaningful elections can be organised. As was underlined in the Agreement, this should be achieved ‘in the interest of the people’, who are entitled to free and fair elections, provided there is a genuine choice of political options that can be represented in the parliament.

We expect the newly-elected parliament to provide the space where democratic discussions can take place, and decisions taken on urgently-needed long-term reforms that could consolidate the functioning of democratic institutions, strengthen the independence of regulatory bodies and restore the trust and confidence of the people in their institutions.

Such moves would contribute to reinforcing the path of Euro-Atlantic and EU integration that the country has chosen. As co-rapporteurs, we will participate – alongside other members of the Parliamentary Assembly – in the pre-electoral visit and the observation of the early election to be carried out by the Parliamentary Assembly.

We will also continue to monitor the implementation of PACE Resolution 1949 (2013) on post-monitoring dialogue, and developments related to the situation of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in the country. We remain supportive of the reform process undertaken by the authorities and recall the availability of the Council of Europe, in particular the Venice Commission, to provide all expertise needed.”

1 The Przno Agreement was signed by the four main political parties on 2 June 2015, and supplemented on 15 July 2015. This signature was facilitated by European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, with the support of three members of the European Parliament and international mediator Peter Vanhoutte.