FYROM: 2017, a year of hope, 2018 will bring new challenges

FYROM: 2017, a year of hope, 2018 will bring new challenges

Elections, political crisis and hopes for changes featured 2017. The beginning of the year was filled with big political tensions. In December 2016, the country had just held the early parliamentary elections, in which VMRO-DPMNE led by Nikola Gruevski and SDSM led by Zoran Zaev were neck and neck with each other. But the Albanian party BDI and other Albanian political parties would turn out to play a key role in the formation of the government.

On 9 January, president George Ivanov mandated Nikola Gruevski to form the government, but after 20 days, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE could not form a government due to the refusal of BDI. After this, the mandate for the formation of the government was given to SDSM and the leader of this party, Zoran Zaev managed to strike a deal with the Albanian parties to form a government.

But, political tension continued as VMRO-DPMNE did not accept this coalition, claiming that it had two seats more than the social democrats in Parliament. This tension continues with street protests. According to VMRO-DPMNE, the so called platform of the Albanian political parties was being sponsored by the Albanian government led by PM Edi Rama.

The events culminated on 27 April, when, after the election of Speaker of Parliament, Talat Xhaferi, crowds of people and hooded thugs broke into Parliament and attacked the MPs of the new majority, causing serious physical injuries to the leader of the Alliance for Albanians, Ziadin Sela and the social democrat leader, Zoran Zaev. This situation mounted tensions, but the intervention of the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn and the US senior official, Brian Hoyt Yee managed to calm the situation.

On 17 May, Ivanov mandated Zaev to form a government, while on 31 May, Parliament voted the new government led by Zaev. This government’s program promised deep reforms and improvement in living standards, but it also promised to address the request of Albanian ethnics, such as the issue of the language.

The new ambitious government opened an important chapter in improving relations with the neighboring countries. So, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev pledged that he would focus on finding a solution on the name contest. On 4 July, the UN envoy for the solution of this contest with Greece, Mathew Nimetz arrived in Skopje and opened a new page in the negotiations that had been suspended three years ago. This marked led to a number of intense talks and meetings between Athens and Skopje and a visit of the head of the Greek diplomacy, Nikos Kotzias in FYROM. The efforts for the solution of the name contest are underway and the sides are optimistic that this issue will be successfully finalized during 2018.

But, the new government also focused on harmonizing relations with Bulgaria, achieving an agreement where the two countries pledge for better relations and to overcome disputes regarding history, language and other pending issues.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev also had a visit in Pristina, where he pledged for collaboration between FYROM and Kosovo. The two countries signed around 20 agreements. In the spirit of cooperation, the government of FYROM also held a meeting with the government of Albania in Pogradec.

September marked the holding of local government elections, where Zaev’s party registered a big victory, while Gruevski’s party conceded a terrible defeat.

Meanwhile, as far as the violent events of 27 April are concerned, authorities arrested 36 activists of VMRO-DPMNE, which included six MPs and the former Interior minister, Mitko Cavkov on charges of participating in violence and violating constitutional order. In the congress of 25 December in Valandovo, Gruevski resigned as leader of VMRO-DPMNE, after leading this party for 14 years. The party elected a new leader, Hristijan Mickovski, university professor and Gruevski’s supporter.

2017 didn’t mark many positive economic and social developments due to the consequences of the political crisis. The new government has stressed that the big turn will come in 2018 with the new budget amounting to 3,4 billion euros. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev continues to be optimistic, saying that his so called program “Life for Macedonia” will not make the big change in a matter of months, but he promised positive things for 2018. /balkaneu.com/