Macedonia: A referendum on Macedonia’s new name fails to settle anything – One step forward, two steps back in Skopje | The Economist

IT HAD been billed as the most important vote in the region’s recent history, a referendum in favour of settling a long-standing dispute between Greece and Macedonia. Instead, voters have opened the door to instability and uncertainty. The vote, held on September 30th in Macedonia, which aimed to endorse an historic compromise agreement between the two countries over Macedonia’s name, has instead thrown the deal into question. It is on life support. But Ana Petruseva, director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Macedonia, says “it is not dead yet.”

Macedonia: Referendum approves name change, but turnout low | Associated Press

A referendum on changing Macedonia’s name as part of a deal that would pave the way for NATO membership won overwhelming support Sunday, but low voter turnout highlighted the hurdles that still remain for the Balkan country to join the alliance. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had hoped for a strong show of support in the referendum on whether to accept a June deal with Greece changing the country’s name to North Macedonia. That would help him with the next step of winning parliamentary support for the required constitutional amendments.

Macedonia: President Urges Boycott Of Name Referendum | RFE/RL

President Gjorge Ivanov has called for voters to boycott an upcoming referendum on Macedonia’s name change, saying the country was being asked to commit “historical suicide.” “Voting in a referendum is a right, not an obligation,” Ivanov said on September 27 in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Macedonians are due to go to the polls on September 30 to vote on an agreement its new Socialist government led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev reached with Greece this year to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. The name dispute between Skopje and Athens dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

Macedonia: Threat of New Cold War Looms Large in Balkan Vote | Bloomberg

Arguments over Brexit, the rise of nationalism and how to deal with Russia are consuming Europe, but there’s one dispute that’s been edging toward a resolution – and it’s in a region where there’s much at stake for the world order. The Republic of Macedonia will hold a referendum on Sept. 30 on changing the former Yugoslav state’s name to Republic of North Macedonia. The insertion of the geographical denominator is key to settling a 27-year-old row with Greece, which claims the country misappropriated the ancient kingdom of Macedonia in northern Greece. Polls show most people support the change. The Balkans is a theater of tug-of-war between the West and Russia and resolving the dispute would be a rare victory in a volatile region where nations still struggle to mend ties going back to the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. Greece has agreed to drop its objection to the Republic of Macedonia joining the European Union and NATO as part of an agreement struck in June.

Macedonia: ‘Fake News’ Exports Now For Domestic Consumption | RFE/RL

In Macedonia’s shadowy “fake news” industry, it seems that what goes around comes around. As 1.8 million eligible voters in that Balkan state mull their options in a September 30 referendum on changing the country’s name to end a long dispute with Greece, the country that found itself accused of helping flood U.S. voters with bogus stories in the 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power is itself awash in a social-media influence campaign. “Boycott the referendum.” “Don’t destroy Macedonia.” “Zaev is a traitor.” Those are just some of the messages analysts say are circulating on fake social-media profiles in a bid by opponents of the “yes” vote encouraged by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev that could open the door to NATO and European Union membership.

Macedonia: U.S. Defense Secretary warns of Russian meddling in Macedonia referendum | Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russia on Monday of attempting to influence the outcome of a referendum in Macedonia on changing the country’s name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union. Speaking after talks in Skopje with Macedonia’s leaders, Mattis also said the United States was looking to expand cybersecurity cooperation with the small Balkan country. Macedonians will vote on Sept. 30 on a deal reached in June with neighboring Greece that would change the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Athens insisted on the change in return for lifting its opposition to Skopje joining NATO and the EU.

Macedonia: Greek government faces no-confidence vote on Macedonia name deal | Associated Press

The prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia faced political storms at home Thursday, two days after reaching a historic deal to settle a decades-old dispute over Macedonia’s name. Greece’s Alexis Tsipras faces a vote of no-confidence in his government by Saturday afternoon, while Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev is contending with the refusal of the country’s president to sign off on the deal if it’s approved by parliament. Zaev and Tsipras have agreed that the former Yugoslav republic should be renamed North Macedonia, ending a disagreement that had prevented it from joining international institutions such as NATO and had poisoned bilateral relations since the early 1990s.

Macedonia: Opposition rejects results of municipal vote | Reuters

Macedonia’s main opposition leader cried foul over local election results after gains for the ruling party in a second round of polls on Sunday, and demanded a snap parliamentary vote. The ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) won in 40 municipalities out of a total 85 in the first round two weeks ago, including in the capital Skopje. Nineteen areas which were undecided on Oct. 16 voted again on Sunday, and the SDSM declared victory in 10. Final results were expected after midnight. Following the second round, the opposition VMRO-DPMNE’s leader Nikola Gruevski dismissed the results. “Because of the election violence, raping of democracy … threats, pressure, massive bribes, the VMRO-DPMNE does not recognize these elections and will never consider them fair and democratic,” Gruevski told reporters.

Macedonia: Ruling Social Democrats Secure Sweep In Local Elections | RFERL

Macedonia’s ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) have won a sweeping victory in the first round of local elections and delivered a severe blow to the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party that ruled much of the country for more than a decade. Macedonia’s State Electoral Commission late on October 16 reported final results that show the SDSM won outright 37 out of 81 municipalities and has a significant lead in another 13, while the VMRO-DPMNE lost control of 56 municipalities and won in only three rural areas in polls held on October 15. In the biggest prize, the SDSM appears close to wresting control of the capital, Skopje, from the VMRO-DPMNE, headed by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Runoff elections are scheduled for October 29.

Macedonia: Early results say voters back left-wing coalition | Associated Press

Early returns from municipal elections being watched as a test of Macedonia’s new left-wing administration indicated Sunday night that voters are backing the government. Results from 30 percent out of the country’s 3,480 polling stations showed the Social Democrat-led led coalition of Prime minister Zoran Zaev leading in 44 of Macedonia’s 81 municipalities, including the capital of Skopje. Candidates from the conservative VMRO-DPMNE led in 13. In the last local elections in 2013, the conservatives won 56 of 81 municipalities, while the Social Democrats won four. “This is a strong punishment for VMRO-DPMNE,” political analyst Gjorgi Spasov said on local TV channel 24. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev addressed supporters in front of the government building early Monday, claiming victory and congratulating people for contributing to a “free and fair” vote.

Macedonia: Crowd Rallies Against New Governing Coalition, Demands Elections | RFERL

About 2,000 protesters gathered in Skopje on April 28 and demanded new elections one day after a band of protesters stormed Macedonia’s parliament and beat up leaders of an emerging new governing coalition. The latest protests, which were peaceful, were staged outside the mission of the European Union, which had expressed support for the new governing coalition formed by Macedonia’s Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties. The organizers of the latest rally insisted they have no political affiliation, and said their activism is aimed at preventing the country from sliding deeper into crisis. They marched under the banner “For a joint Macedonia.”

Macedonia: U.S. diplomats backing Balkan republics against suspected Russia meddling | Los Angeles Times

Even as President Trump seeks to improve relations with Russia, the State Department is countering overtures by Moscow in one of its former satellite regions, the Balkans. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Tuesday called for Macedonia, one of the former republics of the now-defunct Yugoslavia, to urgently put together a government. This comes after the former prime minister of neighboring Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, accused Russia of meddling in the region and attempting to provoke a coup against Montenegro’s pro-Western government last fall. Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed strong interest in joining the European Union and possibly the NATO military alliance, but Russia has opposed those moves.

Macedonia: Conservatives secure win after rerun | Associated Press

Macedonia’s conservatives, led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, secured victory on Sunday in a bitterly contested national election after a poll rerun in a single station did not give the leftist opposition enough votes to overtake their rivals. The rerun, in the northwestern village of Tearce, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital of Skopje, gave the opposition, led by the Social Democrats, 245 votes to 149 for the conservatives, led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party. There were 402 people voting out of 714 registered. The rerun had been ordered following complaints about voting irregularities from the opposition Social Democrats. The result has not been officially announced but has been posted on the website of Macedonia’s Election Commission.

Macedonia: Poll Re-Run Could Alter Election Result | Balkan Insight

On Sunday, Macedonia is set to re-run the December 11 general election in a single polling station – which could change the overall election result by potentially evening out the number of seats won by the ruling and opposition parties. Macedonia’s Administrative Court on Tuesday accepted one electoral complaint filed by the opposition Social Democratic Union, SDSM as a result of which the December 11 general election will be re-run in a single polling station, number 2011, in the north western municipality of Tearce. This single re-run could alter the number of seats won in parliament by the two main parties on December 11 from 51-49 in favour of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party to 50-50 with the SDSM.

Macedonia: Government Supporters Pile Pressure on Election Commission | Balkan Insight

As Macedonia’s state election commssion, DIK, convened on Thursday evening in Skopje to decide opposition complaints about the general election, thousands of supporters of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party arrived by bus from smaller towns on a mission to “protect” its election victory. VMRO DPMPE politicians and prominent supporters heated up the crowd, accusing the main opposition party of plotting “treason” to Macedonia. “We won’t allow the country to be run by people who are prepared to commit the greatest treason against Macedonia,” VMRO DPMNE MP Ilija Dimovski told the protesters. “The DIK members should know that they carry the greatest responsibility and will decide whether this country will be normal and prosperous,” he added. “They should know that these people have no more strength to tolerate things. We respect democracy and the voice of the people. There is no turning back,” Dimovski continued.

Macedonia: Post-Election Tension Nears Danger Level in Macedonia | Balkan Insight

Far from resolving the long-standing political crisis in Macedonia, Sunday’s tight election outcome hints at an even tenser situation that could easily spill over into violent incidents, observers warn. “We have a tie position in both political blocs, numerous combinations for assembling a new government and a serious threat of ethnic conflict among Macedonians,” political analyst Daut Dauti told Deutsche Welle. Tension on the ground between the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the main opposition Social Democratic Union, SDSM, led by Zoran Zaev is already dangerous, experts say. On Tuesday night, in the northern town of Kumanovo, special police units entered the home of local police chief Stojance Velickovic, reportedly in search of alleged evidence of election rigging. Velickovic, who was appointed by the now outgoing interim Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski, who comes from the ranks of the opposition, said the whole event was a set-up organized by the VMRO DPMNE party.

Macedonia: Opposition Challenges Conservative Win In Elections | RFERL

Macedonia’s opposition Social Democratic Union has challenged the results of the country’s weekend parliamentary elections, in a bid to overturn a narrow win by the conservative ruling party. The Social Democrats on December 13 filed complaints about voting irregularities that were echoed by a new ethnic Albanian party, the Besa, which reported alleged violations that could change the outcome of the vote. The state elections commission said the two opposition parties lodged complaints on the electoral process at 16 polling stations, demanding a repeat vote in those places.

Macedonia: Nationalists win election: official results | Reuters

Veteran leader Nikola Gruevski’s nationalist VMRO-DPMNE won 51 out of 120 seats in Macedonia’s parliament in a snap poll on Sunday that is expected to end a two-year long crisis that brought his government down. The nationalists are now in a good position to form a government with their old partner, the Albanian DUI despite their losses. Overall, Albanian ethnic minority parties lost out to the social democrats, suggesting an easing of ethnic strains. Preliminary results issued by the State Election Commission showed opposition Social Democrats had won 49 seats in the election, brought about by Gruevski’s resignation over a wiretapping scandal.

Macedonia: Both Main Parties Claim Election Victory in Macedonia | Balkan Insight

Both main parties claimed victory in Macedonia’s general election on Sunday night. While the main ruling VMRO DPMNE claimed a slight lead of some 20,000 votes across the country, the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, came out celebrating in front of the government HQ in Skopje, insisting it won one or possibly two more seats than their rivals. The incomplete results from the State Electoral Commission show a tight race. Of 88.76 per cent of counted votes, VMRO DPMNE won 388,761 votes, or 38.36 per cent, while the Social Democrats won 368,144 votes, or 36.33 per cent. However, some projections show that this may translate into an equal number of seats for both parties with both VMRO DPMNE and for the SDSM having 51 seats in the 123-seat parliament.

Macedonia: Monitors: Bogus Voters Remain on Macedonia’s Electoral Roll | Balkan Insight

The election monitoring coalition We Decide! (Nie Odlucuvame!), which is running an SOS hotline for reporting electoral irregularities and offers legal help to voters, warned at a press conference on Tuesday that the authorities have failed to fully clean up the electoral roll. We Decide! said it had received repeated reports from voters about bogus names being listed as residents at their addresses. The initiative, launched by over 20 NGOs including the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia and the Macedonian Centre for European Training, said it had received some 30 reports of election irregularities, most of which were about non-existent voters, and all the problems it has encountered remain unaddressed. “We are five days ahead of the early general elections. Our conclusion is that the electoral roll has not been cleared of non-existent voters, also known as phantom voters,” Maja Velickova, a legal expert from the initiative, told Tuesday’s press conference.

Macedonia: Court halts early election in blow to ruling party | Financial Times

Western mediators welcomed a decision by a Macedonian court to strike down plans for early elections, in a blow to the ruling VMRO party which was the only major party registered to participate. The Balkan country’s constitutional court ruled on Wednesday that the dissolution of parliament had been unconstitutional, in effect halting preparations for the poll on June 5. The elections were planned as part of an EU-mediated agreement to resolve a year-long crisis. It began when the opposition alleged that Nikola Gruevski, former prime minister, and his counter-intelligence chief had arranged the wiretapping of thousands of people, enabling them to influence the media, courts and elections.

Macedonia: Court to Mull Election Postponement | Balkan Insight

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday scheduled a session for the following morning to discuss whether the dissolution of parliament ahead of the June 5 polls was unconstitutional because it was carried out incorrectly. The junior party in the ruling coalition, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which like Macedonia’s opposition parties wants the polls to be postponed, submitted the issue to the court last Friday. The DUI insists that the dissolution should be annulled because the MPs voted for a carte-blanche motion allowing parliament to be dissolved two months before the election, without setting the actual date. The party argues that a new dissolution vote should have been taken once the June 5 date was set.

Macedonia: Ruling Party Defends Solo Election | Balkan Insight

The ruling VMRO DPMNE of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski has denied accusations it is practically suspending political pluralism in Macedonia by insisting on competing in June 5 elections alone. “It is a misconception that only one party [VMRO DPMNE] will participate. Our coalition is comprised of 20 parties and that is in itself proof that political pluralism will be preserved,” a senior source from VMRO DPMNE told BIRN under conditions of anonymity. Gruevski previously told the news agency AFP that while he was unhappy about the planned boycott of the polls by other big political parties, “there is no legal basis to be found for postponement of the elections” because parliament had already dissolved and cannot now change the election date. Gruevski said he might opt for another poll, right after the June 5 vote, in order to give other players a second change to participate.

Macedonia: ‘Political Pressure’ Alleged on Macedonia Voter Roll Clean-Up | Balkan Insight

A source inside Macedonia’s State Electoral Commission, DIK told BIRN that the process of weeding out alleged fake voters from the electoral roll is being undermined by the pressure from the ruling parties. “The work of the DIK is marked by constant confrontations [between its members]. The majority of the members are clearly biased towards the [ruling] political parties,” the well-informed DIK source told BIRN on condition of anonymity. Amid official silence from the commission about the progress of the clean-up, the source said that “the [nine] members of DIK do not work together to resolve the problems and that is why they are silent and their report is overdue”. “I wonder how they will restore confidence in the electoral rolls this way,” the source added.

Macedonia: US Denies Backing Gruevski in Macedonia Election | Balkan Insight

The US embassy in Macedonia has dismissed claims made in the pro-government newspaper, Vest, that the US is hoping former prime minister and ruling party leader Gruevski will win the early elections in June. “The United States Government does not endorse candidates in other countries’ elections. Macedonia is no exception,” the embassy wrote to former Vest editor Goran Mihajlovski, who was dismissed from the paper in December. The daily, now run by a new editorial team, on Wednesday wrote a text called “Gruevski favored by one of the most Circulated US Newspapers” with a subtitle reading: “Washington has its fingers in the Macedonian election race.” The text cites a column in The Washington Times, written by Jason Katz, a public relations professional and a principal of TSG, LLC, a strategic communications, political and policy consultancy.

Macedonia: Electoral Roll Has 495,000 Suspect Names | Balkan Insight

A State Electoral Commission report intended to identify fake voters, which was leaked to media on Thursday, said that around 500,000 names on the country’s electoral roll may be fictional and need to be additionally verified. After a computer cross-referencing of voters’ data from 10 different state institutions, the report said that there are more than 495,000 names that need to be checked, as their data does not appear to match. The report noted that 192,000 of the people listed on the electoral roll do not appear in any other database. Fake voters are a key concern raised by the country’s opposition, which accuses the ruling party of tampering with the electoral roll in order to rig polls in its favour.

Macedonia: EU, US Advise Postponing Macedonia Elections | Balkan Insight

Macedonia is not ready for fair elections on April 24, the EU and US said on Sunday, advising a postponement of the pre-term polls that are intended to end the country’s political crisis. US ambassador Jess Baily outlined the joint assessment in a letter delivered to the Macedonian interim Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev on Sunday evening, mentioning June 5 as a possible alternative election date. The letter says that although some progress has been made, “at this stage the necessary conditions for organizing credible elections on April 24 are not in place.” The joint assessment points out concerns regarding a credible clean-up of the electoral roll, including field checks, a still non-existent agreement on media reforms that would allow objective and unbiased reporting, as well as insufficient measures to separate state and political party activities. “We are also concerned at initial reports of pressure and intimidation of voters and others,” the letter says.

Macedonia: A Blogger Exposes Personal Data Protection Flaw on Election Commission Website | Global Voices

Ensuring that the next elections are free and fair is crucial to the return of democracy and stability in Macedonia. A young female blogger contributed to this process by discovering a flaw related to the government’s voters’ registry web app. One of the reforms needed to end the current political crisis in Macedonia, as stipulated within an agreement that was overseen by the European Union and the United States, is the restoration of the State Election Commission (SEC) to good and honest working order. It also requires a “clean-up” of the voters’ registry, ensuring that only people with the right to vote can do so. The first official investigation that the Special Public Prosecutor has launched as part of this effort is looking into the creation of “phantom voters,” as well as votes in the name of dead or absent citizens.

Macedonia: Election Date Still on Table | Balkan Insight

“Early elections can be scheduled for the end of May or the beginning of June at the earliest, mostly because there is no time to check the electoral roll. The option of moving the election date to September is also on the table,” the ambassador of an EU member country told BIRN under condition of anonymity. The same diplomat said spending more time to adopt reforms that guarantee free and fair elections and the participation of the opposition is more important than sticking to the ruling VMRO DPMNE party’s April 24 timetable. The EU-brokered deal reached last summer “is a process that should lead to fair and inclusive elections, not to sticking to predefined [election] dates,” he added. “Many deadlines [in the agreement] were breached. If the ruling party insists that the polls go in their favour, they should agree to a new election date,” the ambassador continued.

Macedonia: Election Commission Starts Cleaning up Electoral Roll | Balkan Insight

Following the decision of the ruling parties to push on with elections in April 24, and amid concern that the opposition may boycott the polls, three separate teams comprised of IT experts are to cross-check the data to determine who is alive and in the country and so eligible to vote. “Two teams are to be engaged of competent local IT companies, and one of international companies,” the head of the election commission, the DIK, Aleksandar Cicakovski, said. The data on voters will be taken from various institutional registers, starting from the Central Bank, the Health Fund, the Employment Agency, the Cadastre Agency, the Public Revenue office and others.