Macedonia MPs Kept on Tight Leash, Tapes Reveal

New wire-tapped conversation supports long-standing suspicion that the leadership of Macedonia's ruling party blackmails its MPs, using blank resignation notes to keep them in line.

Macedonian parliament

A newly aired tape, containing what appears to be the voice of Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski, confirms claims that ruling party MPs had to sign blank resignation declarations, which could then be activated if they defected or disobeyed instructions.

In a conversation between what seems to be Gruevski and the VMRO DPMNE MP group coordinator, Silvana Boneva, the two discuss a scheme that has been widely rumoured to exist – but which has till now been unproven.

The two discuss the ruling party’s MPs’ frequent absences from plenary sessions and how to punish them for doing so.

“Let’s start activating resignations. What do you say?” Gruevski asks Boneva, adding: “They have submitted their written resignations. Let’s start activating them.”

“We could. They went too far,” Boneva replies. “You should now gather all of them and tell them that they have written their resignations, and that if they don’t want to work, these will be immediately activated.”

In the conversation, revealed by the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, Gruevski and Boneva also discuss whether in such a case the MPs could retract their resignations.

“Well, they could do that, if they are not ashamed [to do so] in front of people. They could come to a session and say – ‘I did not’…” Boneva explains. Gruevski then thinks of a better solution to prevent this possibility.

“We could fix the job [their resignations] while they are [away] on a trip. Let them come then and explain…” Gruevski’s voice suggests.

The tape was revealed this week at the latest opposition press conference dedicated to the issue of illegal surveillance in Macedonia.

The Social Democratic Party, SDSM, has accused Gruevski of orchestrating the surveillance of some 20,000 people, including his close associates. The SDSM says it obtained the material from sources in the Macedonian secret services.

Gruevski has insisted that the tapes were created by unnamed “foreign secret services” in collaboration with the opposition in order to destabilise the country.

Long-standing VMRO DPMNE dissident Jove Kekenovski – who has since called on party members and sympathizers to distance themselves from Gruevski – says the party’s control mechanisms are probably even more severe than what these conversations reveal.

He says that MPs and other party officials are also forced to sign documents agreeing to forfeit their assets and possessions if they defect.

“This practice must stop. There are strong speculations, that I presume will soon be revealed, that most of the MPs also had to sign promissory notes [for their real estate],” he said.

“This clearly indicates that the political party is trying all ways possible to protect itself from potential solo actions by MPs in future. This undermines the independence and the autonomy of the MPs,” Kekenovski said.

Kekenovski was a VMRO DPMNE nominee for the 2014 presidential elections. However, the party settled on another candidate, the current incumbent, Gjorge Ivanov.

One alleged VMRO DPMNE legislator recently told Germany’s Deutsche Welle, under condition of anonymity, that an elaborate scheme of control over MPs does indeed exist. He said he had been obliged to sign over a potential forfeit of 300,000 euro.

“They explained that this was to cover the expenses the party had invested in my election campaign,” he said in a text published in March 10.

The claims are hard to prove because so far, no MPs from the ruling party have tested the provisions by trying to defect.

This issue raised in 2009 in parliament when Tito Petkovski, head of the small opposition party, the New Social Democrats, filed a motion to change the law in order to outlaw MPs signing away financial guarantees to political parties.

Boneva, whose voice can be heard on the recent tape, then dismissed the motion as needless and even as insulting.

“This does not make MPs’ position stronger nor does it improve citizens’ trust in parliament. The constitution already guarantees the independence of the MPs. This law seriously insults MPs,” Boneva then said.

“This crisis will be resolved once Gruevski is dismissed. But if the MPs don’t get rid of this shameful obligation, they will never vote for his dismissal,” a former speaker of parliament, Stojan Andov observed.

“These obligations have no legal validity, but they keep MPs in fear. That’s why they should file a motion that will void such conditions,” Andov told the media.