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Analysis: Premier's Resignation Highlights Problems In Macedonia

After a weekend filled with rumors that he might step down, Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov announced his resignation on 15 November. Kostov, who does not belong to any of the governing parties, led the government for little more than five months. He replaced Branko Crvenkovski, who exchanged the prime minister's job for the presidency following the death in a plane crash in February of President Boris Trajkovski.

It is unlikely that Kostov's resignation will trigger a major political crisis. It will, however, prolong the current paralysis of the political process caused by the lengthy discussion about the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts and to streamline the state administration.

Kostov's decision to stand down also highlights a number of weaknesses and problems within the governing coalition that contributed to the current paralysis. These weaknesses -- if not addressed in the near future -- may in the long run lead to political destabilization.

Speaking at a press conference on 15 November, Kostov said he feels that the governing coalition lacks a consensus and is not capable of the teamwork necessary to attain the country's strategic goals. Although he did not mention any names or parties, Kostov implicitly blamed the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) for the lack of cooperation among the coalition partners.

Specifically, Kostov said "one of the coalition partners" understands its role in the government to center exclusively on the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, and is demanding that "one of the ethnic communities" be proportionally represented in the state administration. (Kostov himself is a member of the well-integrated Vlach minority.) At the same time, Kostov said the unnamed political party promotes only its national and party interests and does so through nepotism and corruption.

According to Kostov, the BDI has refused in the cabinet sessions to approve a number of draft laws regarding privatization of state property and budgeting, demanding that the Finance Ministry change its employment rules to allow the employment of 15 new officials.
Kostov's experience as a bank manager was little help in balancing the interests of the coalition partners.

"I am not prepared to work under such conditions," Kostov said. "I am not prepared [to accept] inefficient work in the government, setting preconditions, and blocking the reform process in the political and, above all, in the economic sphere because of daily political horse trading." Kostov underscored that he does not consider his resignation as a personal defeat or weakness, adding that he is a fighter who does not easily compromise his political principles.

BDI representatives reacted to Kostov's resignation with a mixture of surprise and defiance. BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti said her party did not expect Kostov's move. Reacting to Kostov's criticism that the BDI blocked the government's work with its demand for the employment of ethnic Albanian officials, Mehmeti said: "We do not consider the debates in the cabinet to represent [serious] differences or blackmail, but [only] an exchange of views." BDI legislator Rafis Aliti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 15 November that his party will not give up its demand for proportional representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration.

Such tensions between Kostov and the BDI are nothing new. In September 2003, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with the BDI over the handling of a police operation to arrest ethnic Albanian suspects. And in July, Kostov faced stiff resistance from the BDI when he wanted to dismiss Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku over corruption allegations. At that time, Buxhaku reportedly said the only person qualified to decide on his resignation was not Kostov but BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti.

In addition to his problems with the BDI, Kostov is said to have had problems with Economy Minister Stevco Jakimovski of the other small coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats (LDP). The LDP, for its part, claimed that Kostov has more problems with Finance Minister Nikola Popovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which is the largest coalition partner. But SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said his party regards Kostov's withdrawal as a personal move and declined to comment. Kondarko stressed that the SDSM has always supported Kostov.

Media reports suggest that Kostov's position in the cabinet was weak from the beginning of his tenure. Kostov entered Crvenkovski's cabinet as an independent minister, without the support of a major political party. His previous experience as a bank manager was little help in balancing the interests of the coalition partners, as "Utrinski vesnik's" Erol Rizaov put it.

Whoever is chosen as Kostov's successor, he or she will need both the backing of a political party and the support of the other coalition partners to revive the political process and to carry out the necessary economic reforms.