28 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), announced recently that his party was pulling out of parliament once and for all.
The 20 April move marks a watershed for his once-powerful party and begs questions about its political agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005).
Thaci's announcement came after the governing majority of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) rejected a PDSH request that a draft bill on local elections be put on the parliamentary agenda. The bill would seek to annul recent elections in 16 administrative districts in western Macedonia where ethnic Albanians predominate. Both the PDSH and the opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) argue that the governing coalition is responsible for ballot irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 23, and 25 March and 11 April 2005, "RFE/RL Newsline," End Note, 18 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 April 2005).
Thaci also harshly criticized parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski when he announced the parliamentary boycott. "We announce that the parliamentary group of the [PDSH] will boycott the parliament's work once and for all," Thaci said, "because the behavior of the speaker and of this parliament is right out of the 15th century, and because apart from stealing votes from us [in the local elections], you do not allow the opposition to speak out."
Zamir Dika, who leads the PDSH's caucus, added: "The governing majority will not succeed [in silencing the opposition], because the debate on the electoral fraud will continue outside the [democratic] institutions."
It is not the first time that the PDSH has boycotted parliamentary proceedings. The daily "Utrinski vesnik" recalled on 21 April that PDSH legislators stayed away from parliament between April and June 2003 to protest the slow implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi subsequently said his party was obliged to return to the legislature because it was the only party representing the "real interests" of the country's 23 percent Albanian minority.
Thaci's boycott announcement came as no great surprise. One week before the parliamentary majority rejected the draft election bill, Xhaferi had warned that his party might resort to civil disobedience if the bill was defeated.
In an interview with "Utrinski vesnik" of 23 April, Xhaferi explained how his party would react to the rejection of his bill. "In a democracy, you have the possibility of acting outside the institutions if the institutions [do not respond] to the demands and ideas of individual political parties," Xhaferi said. "This does not mean that we now take to the mountains and start shooting. We will act outside the institutions but democratically -- that is, without violence, with various demonstrations, contacts with international representatives, with NATO, the EU, etc."
The smallish PPD, which left the coalition it had formed with the PDSH ahead of the local elections, announced that it would remain in the parliament. PPD Chairman Abduladi Vejseli told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently that his party would continue to support the democratic institutions because "it is difficult to resolve problems outside those institutions."
In the eyes of the BDI, the PDSH's decision to boycott was merely an attempt to find an excuse for its poor showing in the local elections. The BDI has replaced the PDSH as the strongest ethnic Albanian political party since it was founded in 2002 primarily by members of the former UCK. In the recent local elections, the PDSH lost much of its remaining political power on the local level.
But boycotting the parliament is not the only way the PDSH has gained public attention of late. Xhaferi recently raised another contentious issue that is likely to enrage the Macedonian public: the question of Macedonia's national symbols, such as the future of its coat-of-arms, flag, and national anthem (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004).
Xhaferi has argued that neither the flag nor the anthem reflects the country's multiethnic character. Thus, he said, they contradict the spirit of the Ohrid peace agreement, which defines Macedonia as a multiethnic state. According to Xhaferi, all "ethnocentric codes" -- including references to ethnic Macedonian traditions in the hymn and state symbols -- must be removed.
While the other ethnic Albanian parties at least partly support Xhaferi's demands for a change of state symbols, most Macedonian observers reject them. Former Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski, who was one of the authors of the agreement, told "Dnevnik" that a review of the state symbols was not part of the peace deal, adding that nobody has the right to interpret the agreement this way.
In the past, Xhaferi has repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to gain attention with its tough talk (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003). It is unlikely that his latest statements will help the PDSH regain the confidence of Albanian voters.