AIM: start

FRI, 07 DEC 2001 00:19:56 GMT

Parliament as Entertainment

The myriad of instructors in parliamentary democracy who have been crisscrossing the Balkans in the past decade could not in their wildest dreams have imagined that a legislative body could be what the Macedonian Parliament has become.

AIM Skopje, November 29, 2001

Macedonian Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov last Thursday withdrew his own proposal for disbanding Parliament. The coordinator of the opposition Social Democratic Alliance caucus, Nikola Popovski, challenged Andov's right to make such a motion given that he was not a signer of the Ohrid Agreement, which Andov amply quoted in explaining his proposal. He also criticized Andov for manipulating with other parts of the agreement. Namely the speaker has shown in the past months a great ability for wheeling and dealing with whomever was willing to do business with him -- with the president of the country, certain parties, the international community. And what has he achieved? Nothing, and maybe even less than that. Because it is generally believed that the obligations stemming from the Ohrid agreement stipulating broader constitutional rights for ethnic minorities, are much harder to implement now than it would have been had the original timetable and procedure been respected. Thus Andov bears sole responsibility for having been perceived by political circles and international representatives alike as the biggest impediment to implementing the agreement and enforcing the peace process. Either way, the afore-mentioned heated debate lasted two days and ended without an epilogue. Andov let the leaders of the four parties that signed the Ohrid accords to harmonize their stances on disbanding Parliament, which should have produced a date for early elections.

In any case, the deadline by which the Parliament was supposed to disband itself has expired. True, most parties did not like the idea in the first place. The Social Democratic Alliance was an exception; it claimed that the move was warranted saying that if it was not, then a gradual approach should be used -- a disbanding motion should be passed immediately, and it should be carried out on Feb. 28, followed by early elections two months later. Still, most ethnic Macedonian MPs warned of poor security conditions (not wanting to openly say that the government does not control almost one-third of Macedonian territory) meaning that conditions do not exist for early elections, and probably meaning as well that there is no need for Parliament's disbanding. Ethnic Albanian parties, on their part, insist on the passage of laws envisaged by the Ohrid agreement. Similar signals have been arriving from the international community: Parliament is expected to pass the legislation specified in the treaty before disbanding. First of all, this pertains to a local self-government bill, on which Washington conditions the holding of a donors' conference. And, this is indeed what happened: the cabinet prepared the bill and it will soon be debated by MPs.

The fact that, in the meantime, President Trajkovski visited Brussels, where he will do his best to organize the donors' conference, shows that the situation is quite complicated. According to reliable reports, his talks with EU External Policy Commissioner Chris Patten ended without a date for the conference being set. The European Commission is unwilling to take any risks -- either in regard to the security situation in Macedonia or to the legislation stemming from the Ohrid treaty. It should be recalled that the donors' conference has already been scheduled and that only thanks to Andov's insistence on "legality" (he kept posing new conditions for convening Parliament to debate constitutional reforms) and "Macedonian bloc" MPs' obstinate refusal to endorse such reforms, the conference was simply cancelled.

One would have to be clairvoyant to know when Parliament will be convened and pass these controversial bills. It is another matter that MPs no longer care much about the issues they are paid to deal with. Securing a quorum is next to impossible, cell phones keep ringing throughout the sessions, MPs seem to believe that the sessions are covered live so that they can greet business partners, relatives, friends, lovers, and -- why not -- even voters. Apart from masochists, anybody else willing to watch the Parliament sessions can do so only if they take it as some weird entertainment show. The public even has its favorites, who, if not excelling in political though, at least make the sessions witty and amusing.

Transfers are also under way. After last week's decision by the Social Democratic Alliance to join the opposition, in Parliament's nook and crannies secret arrangements are being made on who will support Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski and his VMRO-DPMNE. Even the most experienced reporters dare not try to list who belongs to which party. The transfers are quick, and the price is known only to a very small circle. This is officially known as "consultations on the makeup of the new/reshuffled cabinet," the seventh one Ljubco Georgijevski has been in charge of. They say the list of ministers will be known on Friday, maybe next Monday, in fact. Just in case, the prime minister is in charge of foreign affairs, and his deputy, one of Stojan Andov's Liberals, Zoran Krstevski, of defense.

Western lovers of parliamentary democracy and its charms are not that certain that new elections are exactly what Macedonia needs at the moment. What they are accustomed to is not what they have encountered here, or in some other former communist countries at that.

What we have here is a stalemate -- no one can trust the current Parliament; elections are needed to form another, but proper conditions need to be created first. International patrons ought to arm themselves with patience; maybe they will be luckier in the next drawing!

Zeljko Bajic