Macedonia Opposition Slates Curbs to MPs’ Speeches

A motion from a ruling party MP on limiting the time that legislators can spend on discussions in parliament has further angered the opposition.Opposition Social Democrats have attacked as provocative a bid to amend the parliamentary rulebook to limit the time spent on debates.

“The government is showing its totalitarian manners. In normal democracies the rulebook serves to provide fair and principled dialogue… and normally it is adopted by consensus,” Gordan Georgiev, the Social Democrats’ vice president, said on Thursday.

He was referring to a motion of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party MP, Aleksandar Nikolovski, which he says will speed up the work of parliament.

He proposes limiting the time for speeches not only during plenary sessions but in parliamentary commissions as well.

The proposed provisions would limit the overall time for discussion to two days if a motion is filed under speedy procedure, to ten days during a first reading of a law and to five days during a second reading.

Nikolovski admits that he filed the motion in order to prevent further opposition blockades of government laws.

“Currently, we only limit the time for discussion in plenary sessions and the [time for] discussion in commissions remain free… but the opposition has constantly abused our good will, most recently around the budget,” he said.

In December, opposition MPs used long speeches and filed hundreds of amendments to prevent the adoption of the 2013 budget. They were objecting to government plans to raise more loans to cover expenditures.

A political crisis erupted on December 24 when government parties passed the budget anyway, in only minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were kicked out of parliament by security and police.

The day saw a tense stand-off in Skopje between several thousand pro- and anti-government protesters, separated by a police cordon.

Opposition MPs have since launched a parliamentary boycott and have called for early general elections in March.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who heads VMRO DPMNE, accused them of attempting a coup and has refused to hold snap polls.

The motion also concerns Gruevski’s ethnic Albanian partner in government, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

Last autumn, DUI legislators successfully prevented the adoption of the disputed Army Law, proposed by Gruevski’s party, by holding marathon speeches in the assembly, precisely using the right to make unlimited speeches in the commission stage.

They opposed the law because it did not offer state pensions to former Albanian guerilla fighters in Macedonia’s 2001 armed conflict, but only to veterans from the army and police.

“We will not comment for now,” Talat Xhaferi, a DUI legislator said, “but in principle, we need to reach a consensus before changing anything in the rulebook.”

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