Macedonian Opposition Boycotts Local Polls

The Social Democrats refused to take part in next month’s vote after the government declined to postpone the polls for a month or to hold parallel early general elections.The country’s main opposition force acted on its boycott threat after the government turned down its demands, refusing to submit a list of mayoral candidates by the midnight deadline on Saturday and blaming Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

“From now on it is clear the opposition isn’t bluffing… If Gruevski does not accept our proposition [to postpone the elections], Macedonia will get a negative report from the EU, and maybe its recommendation for the start of accession talks will even be revoked,” the Social Democrats’ vice president Zoran Jovanovski wrote on his Facebook page.

Jovanovski said that it was now down to Gruevski to make the next move.

The government said it “regrets” and is “disappointed” by the opposition’s move, according to its spokesperson Aleksandar Gjorgiev.

“The local elections will be held as planned on March 24… and the government guarantees they will be held according to all international standards,” Gjorgiev said.

The boycott is likely to complicate Macedonia’s ongoing political crisis and bring the legitimacy of the local polls into question, while some fear that it could derail the country’s EU accession agenda entirely.The crisis started on December 24 when the ruling parties voted for the 2013 budget in just minutes after opposition MPs and journalists were ejected from the assembly by security guards.

Since then, the opposition has insisted that it will boycott the local polls if Gruevski’s government continues to reject its demand for parallel early general elections.

The EU Council has said that any decision on opening accession talks for Macedonia will be based on the next report of the European Commission, due in spring.

The report will assess whether Macedonia has taken real steps towards reaching a deal with Greece over its name, to which Athens objects, whether it has improved relations with Bulgaria and has carried out reforms at home.

Last week the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Macedonia, Richard Howitt, ended his visit with a warning that if the political crisis continues, he will have to ask the European Parliament to postpone voting on his draft resolution on the country, due in two weeks, because of the possibility of a negative report.

Meanwhile, after it became apparent that the crisis was not being resolved, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele cancelled a visit to the country planned for this week, during which he planned to discuss Macedonia’s reform process.

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