8 February 2002, Volume 6, Number 8
CONTROVERSY OVER PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN MACEDONIA. In the Ohrid peace agreement of August 2001, Macedonia's four main political parties agreed that early parliamentary elections should be held by the end of February 2002. But due to delays in implementing other provisions of the peace accord -- such as the law on local self-government (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February 2002) -- the elections were postponed to an unspecified later date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001).
The political parties continue to discuss the problems related to the next parliamentary elections, and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that they will be truly pre-term ones -- the next scheduled elections are due in the fall of 2002, anyway. The issues include the date of the elections, the laws that have to be adopted or amended before elections can be held, and the electoral system itself.
After lengthy discussions about the date of the early elections, there seems to be some agreement among the political parties that the elections can be held in June or July. The opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) wants as early a date as possible -- opinion polls suggest that the party would win if votes were cast now.
The ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which is faring poorly in the polls, does not want to talk about elections until the police have returned to the villages previously held by the Albanian rebels. This process is still inching its way along.
The two main ethnic Albanian political parties -- the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- also want early elections. But they do not want them at any price. For them, it is more important that the legal framework first be changed in accordance with the Ohrid peace agreement. But there are different views as to which provisions of the Ohrid agreement are to be met before elections can take place.
Parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, a key figure in the legislative process, cites several factors. "First, I have to see the agenda, and then it will depend on the discussions about the amnesty law and the electoral system. In addition to adopting two laws -- the law on the election of members to the parliament and the law on electoral districts -- it will be necessary to adopt new regulations regarding the next census as well."
Immediately after the Ohrid peace accord was signed, the government drafted a new law on electing members of the parliament. But so far, the parliament has not discussed the bill. This may be due to the comments by election expert Daniel Finn, who analyzed the draft law on behalf of the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (available at http://www.osce.org/odihr/).
According to Finn's detailed analysis, the draft election law would resolve some of the most significant problems that OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions noted during previous elections. But "numerous other legal and administrative issues would not be addressed. In addition, the draft law would not provide the basis of a comprehensive election code nor for continuous improvement of election administration...."
A major point at issue among the political parties is how deputies should be elected. Under current legislation, parliament has 120 members, 85 of whom are elected from single-mandate districts through a majority vote. The remaining 35 members are elected on a nationwide basis through proportional representation based on party lists.
As Finn puts it, "[the] choice of system for parliamentary representation is mainly a political matter, but has many implications for election operations, including with respect to the incentives for election fraud."
In an article published in "Nova Makedonija" on 2 February, Igor Panov writes that the Justice Ministry has proposed two alternatives. One is based on a parallel system like the current one, with the difference that 60 deputies would be directly elected by a majority and 60 on a proportional basis. The second alternative, which is favored by the ethnic Albanian political parties, foresees a strictly proportional system. The main ethnic Macedonian parties seem reluctant to make any changes in the election system.
Any change to the election system at this stage, however, includes dangers. And according to the OSCE/ODIHR report: "It seems improbable that political leaders and others could fully assess the effect of a major change in the method of election on their own interests and the welfare of the country in the amount of time available, especially if early elections are called...."
"Changing the method of election just prior to the next parliamentary elections could give also rise to suspicion that a political deal had been reached about the composition of the next Assembly.... Over the longer term, however, reconsidering the system of representation in parliament should definitely be undertaken in an attempt to reach a system that could become widely accepted and established in Macedonia."
Any change in the law or the election system before the elections that would favor a single party or ethnic group would certainly lead to a deterioration in the fragile peace process. It would also deal a heavy blow to the confidence-building efforts of the government and the international community. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
ROMANIA SET ON NATO MEMBERSHIP. On the sidelines of the recent World Economic Forum in New York, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase reaffirmed his country's desire for speedy accession to NATO. In a speech at Columbia University on 1 February, Nastase repeatedly portrayed Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria as bulwarks in Southeastern Europe against the trafficking of people, arms, and drugs to Western Europe.
In his speech, Nastase quoted NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson as saying there is no better insurance against terrorism than enlarging NATO by inviting stable, multiethnic democracies to join.
Though lagging far behind as a candidate for European Union accession, in part because of slow economic and political reforms, Romania is hoping for stronger consideration by NATO when it meets later this year in Prague to discuss enlargement.
Europe's new democracies, Nastase said, have already acted as de facto allies. He said that without pressure or a treaty commitment, the 10 democracies known as the Vilnius Group have freely chosen to support the central obligation of NATO that an attack on any member of the Euro-Atlantic community is an attack on all its members.
Nastase argued that with Romania's mixed religious and ethnic population, the country is a natural bridge between the West and the Islamic world. [Editor's note: Romania's Muslim population is negligible compared to that of Bulgaria or Macedonia, to say nothing of Bosnia, Kosovo, or Albania.] He reiterated his belief that the emerging democracies of Southeastern Europe will continue to make a significant contribution to European security.
Speaking in English, he added: "Romania and Bulgaria are the most populous of the new European democracies. We are partners who have been tested in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the war against terrorism. From a geo-strategic prospective, including Romania and Bulgaria in NATO will consolidate the southern flank of the alliance and strengthen its ability to address current security needs."
Nastase said that challenges remain in the western Balkans. He added that surrounding the territory of the former Yugoslavia with stable and democratic NATO members will increase the prospects for economic and political development in the region. He argued that Romania and Bulgaria can help assure conditions that will allow the long process of Balkan reconstruction and reconciliation to begin. "NATO's strategic continuity will also be strengthened, since Romania and Bulgaria will link Northern and Central Europe with Greece and Turkey. Our inclusion in NATO would strengthen the European barriers against criminal and terrorist activities flowing from the instability in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria will bring NATO to the Black Sea and provide the alliance permanent forward bases for air, land, and maritime traffic with the Middle East and Central Asia." [Editor's note: Turkey already does much of this.]
Nastase cited the successes he says have already been made by the regional center for transborder crime, located in Bucharest. He said it has succeeded in dismantling a number of drug- and human-trafficking networks. He added that Romanians are looking forward to an expeditious accession to NATO. "We are confident that we will make history in Prague. But we will stay the course even if our moment is delayed. Romania will directly strengthen NATO's security role through our experience in peacekeeping operations and our role in promoting stability and cooperation in Southern Europe. Romania remains on the front line of conflicts in Southeastern Europe."
The Romanian prime minister also warned of attempts to isolate Russia and Ukraine from the process of European integration. He spoke about his government's efforts to improve relations with both Moscow and Kyiv. "Last year, we launched the 'Partnership for Europe' with Ukraine. We also resumed negotiations for a political treaty with Russia as part of seeking a normal, constructive relationship between our two countries. Russia and Ukraine have important roles to play, and Romania believes [that] the logic of engagement has definitively dismantled Cold War divisions in Europe."
Asked later about the priorities of his government's domestic policy, Nastase singled out the issue of widespread corruption as the most worrisome. Romania is considered one of the most corrupt countries in Eastern Europe. [Editor's note: Romania has long held this dubious distinction.] "Corruption is a drain on our economy, a damper on foreign investment, and a blight on the reputation of our country. It is a threat to our institutions and to the freedoms we worked so hard to acquire. Fighting corruption is the number one priority."
Recent surveys show popular support in Romania for NATO membership stands far higher than in any other of the other eight aspiring NATO candidates -- Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. (Nikola Krastev)
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE... The Bosnian Olympic delegation will consist of four people: two skiers -- and two officials. The bobsled team was not able to complete the required week of pre-Olympic training on the Salt Lake City site. It seems that an old tradition of Tito's Yugoslavia is still alive and well, namely having at least as many supervisors as people who actually do the work. (Patrick Moore)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Serbia still has to prove whether it's a really democratic country." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to Reuters in Belgrade on 30 January.
"Those who criticize Turkey for its problems confuse what is problematic with what is fundamental [and] focus too much on where Turkey is today and ignore where it is going." -- U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Quoted by dpa in Munich on 2 February.
"A model for the Muslim world." -- Wolfowitz on Turkey.
"We do not want to be addicted to international aid but we seek direct investment. We would like to see our strategic partners invest in Macedonia to invest in peace." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Quoted by Reuters in Washington on 4 February.