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Macedonia: Lawmakers Discuss Dissolving Parliament

In Macedonia, four cabinet ministers resigned yesterday after two ethnic Macedonian parties withdrew from the country's 19-member coalition government. Left vacant are the deputy prime ministership and the posts of defense, foreign affairs, and health ministers.

Prague, 23 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's parliament is meeting today at Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's request to discuss the resignation yesterday of three Social Democrats and one Liberal from the coalition government.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilija Filipovski, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva -- all members of former Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski's Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM) -- resigned, as did Health Minister Petar Milosevski from the Liberal Alliance.

The four submitted irrevocable letters of resignation one day after Crvenkovski announced the two parties were withdrawing from the coalition government.

The Social Democrats left the coalition in part to protest what they say is Georgievski's militant and hard-line policies toward the large Albanian community in Macedonia, but also because it had been SDSM's intention for some time to leave the coalition with the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and the two main Albanian parties as soon as constitutional changes benefiting the Albanian community had been enacted.

Those changes were passed on 16 November.

The Ohrid framework peace agreement provided for parliamentary elections to be held on 27 January. The peace accord resulted in the handover of weapons by the rebels and the dissolution of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in exchange for an amnesty and constitutional changes granting greater rights to Albanians and other minorities.

The VMRO-DPMNE and the Social Democrats are now calling for the elections to be postponed three months until 27 April.

It is unlikely that parliament will be dissolved right away, as the three remaining parties in the government can muster a majority in parliament.

Prime Minister Georgievski says the resignations do not threaten the government's survival. He notes that Macedonian forces have yet to restore complete control over formerly rebel-held areas in the northwest of the country and asks, "How can we conduct elections if we lack control over 10 percent of the country?"

Georgievski says it will take until spring to reintegrate these Albanian-majority districts and enable the return of displaced persons. Only then, he says, can elections take place.

Although the Social Democrats will not be in the cabinet, Crvenkovski says the SDSM remains strong enough to prevent VMRO-DPMNE from launching what he called "another adventure" against the Albanian community.

SDSM leader Crvenkovski was blunt in explaining why his party is leaving the coalition: "We cannot act as babysitters for Georgievski, [Interior Minister Ljube] Boskovski, and others and clean up their dirty work."

Prime Minister Georgievski was not amused: "The only thing SDSM has done has been to engage in slander and inventions about Interior Minister Boskovski."

At today's session of parliament, Georgievski accused the SDSM of going into opposition in "an attempt to improve their ratings before the elections, as well as to have an alibi for the constitutional changes," which are unpopular among many members of the Macedonian majority community.

In Georgievski's words, "We are well aware that this was not a coalition of mutual love. This was a coalition for the sake of Macedonia to rescue this country."

NATO's ambassador to Macedonia, Klaus Vollers, spoke yesterday with RFE/RL's Macedonian Unit: "A new government has to be formed because it seems that most of the members of parliament do not want to dissolve parliament on Friday [today]. There will be a vote on that. Most probably there will be no elections in January and parliament will stay in session. Therefore, a new government will be formed, and we all wait [to see] who will be in the governing [coalition]."

The NATO ambassador says there are many points for and against dissolving parliament now: "A new election law is in the [pipe]line but has not been passed by parliament. The law on local government is very urgent and has not been passed by parliament. So if parliament were to dissolve itself at the end of the week, many urgent things could not be done, and parliament would have to dissolve itself now if they want to have elections in January."

But Vollers says politicians are loathe to take unpopular measures as the election campaign approaches. And he notes that the law on local government should be passed prior to a donors' conference for Macedonia in mid-December organized by the international community.

The current "national unity" government was formed last May in a bid to avoid civil war erupting at the height of the Albanian insurgency. The VMRO-DPMNE-led government also includes the two main Albanian parties in Macedonia -- the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh). Both the PPD and PDSh say they will remain in the governing coalition.

However, PDSh chairman Arben Xhaferi is now making his party's continued participation contingent on the departure from the cabinet of the hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who considers the Ohrid peace accord a "sellout to Albanian terrorists."

PDSh is also demanding that parliament adopt within 10 days a law on local administration and that MPs unconditionally respect the new parliamentary rules that permit the use of the Albanian language in parliamentary work. In addition, Xhaferi is demanding a new election law be enacted within 30 days of the formation of the government, and that parliament be dissolved within 20 days after passage of the election law.

Aziz Pollozhani is a member of parliament and deputy chairman of the PPD. He says early elections are acceptable but only after the Ohrid agreement is implemented, which he says can only happen while parliament is in session: "If this proposal [to dissolve parliament now] wins approval by the majority [of MPs], it would prevent implementation of the Ohrid agreement and would unleash new tensions. This would be another destabilizing element to the peace process."

Georgievski is currently negotiating with representatives of two smaller right-wing parties, True VMRO (VMRO-Vistinska) and New Democracy, about the possibility of joining the government.