Macedonia Urged to End Parliamentary Paralysis

Calls are growing for the parliamentary speaker and the ruling majority to take more decisive action to end the opposition’s stalling tactics in the legislature, which have been paralysing parliament’s work.
 Macedonian parliamentary speaker Talat Xhaferi. Photo: MIA

The parliamentary speaker and the ruling majority are being urged to take action to curb the stalling tactics of the opposition VMRO DPMNE party which have been blocking parliament’s work for the past month and a half.

Gjorgi Spasov, a diplomat and a former MP said that the speaker Talat Xhaferi and the Social Democrats-led majority “must demonstrate strength and bravery to remove this blockade and the many others that are expected”.

Spasov said that the majority otherwise risks not being able to proceed with its ambitious reform plan aimed at restoring the rule of law and country’s EU and NATO accession bids and causing disappointment amongst its voters.

Soon after going into opposition in late May, the former ruling VMRO DPMNE formed ten separate parliamentary caucuses which gave it significantly more opportunities to stall the new government’s proposed bills, regulations and appointments.

Since then, parliament has been stuck in endless recesses demanded by the various VMRO DPMNE parliamentary groups, while VMRO DPMNE MPs have also used long off-topic speeches and replies as delaying tactics.

The VMRO DPMNE controls 51 MPs in the 120 seat parliament.

Because of the VMRO DPMNE’s filibustering, parliament on Monday again failed conclude its debate on the announced dismissal of chief Public Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski, who has been widely criticised for ignoring major corruption cases in the past and siding with the VMRO DPMNE while it was in office.

The debate about his dismissal, which is seen as one of the first stepping stones towards judicial reforms that the new government has promised, has been dragging on for over a month. 

As they have done before, VMRO DPMNE MPs on Monday indulged in lengthy discussions amongst themselves that rarely mentioned the topic at hand but rather focused anything from the ongoing wildfires to the recently-signed friendship agreement with neighbouring Bulgaria.

Since the VMRO DPMNE controls ten caucuses, its allotted time for replies to discussions are ten times longer and it is allowed ten times more recesses than in normal conditions.

Tito Belicanec, a law professor at Skopje’s state university, also said that parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi must act and reduce the number of “fictive” VMRO DPMNE caucuses to just one.

Belicanec cited article 33, line 2 of the parliamentary rulebook, which prohibits parties from having more than one caucus when they are clearly do not have internal divisions.

“If any of the coordinators of the ten fictive caucuses asks for a recess, that should be allowed, but if anyone else [then] asks for another recess, Xhaferi should decline,” he said.

According to article 81, line 3 of the parliamentary rulebook, a caucus coordinator has the right to one one-hour-long recess per day.

However the VMRO DPMNE’s ten caucus coordinators often ask for one recess after another.

Xhafier has also been advised to cut off speakers who often go off-topic during debates.

On several occasions, Xhaferi has prolonged parliament’s work well after midnight to somewhat compensate for the lengthy discussions, but has so far not acted to curb them.

The Social Democrats-led majority has also objected to the forming of the VMRO DPMNE’s ten caucuses but has not yet filed any formal motion aimed at annulling them.

VMRO DPMNE MP Ilija Dimovski insisted however that the party is not paralysing parliament for its own political ends.

“The goal is constructive, in order to allow debate in parliament,” Dimovski said.

“We will use the mechanisms we are allowed fully in order to influence [parliamentary] processes,” he added.

The VMRO DPMNE’s stalling threatens to delay or block vital legislation.

Laws and provisions that form part of the recently-announced government plan called ‘3-6-9’, which contains a set of EU-sought reforms planned for the next three, six and nine months, may get tangled up in the long parliamentary sessions as well.

These include a set of reforms in the judiciary, the police and other sectors, as well as a new law aimed at making the official use of the Albanian language more widespread.

The plan is the new government’s first push towards regaining the European Commission’s recommendation for the start of EU accession talks, which had been frozen due to the long-running political crisis in Macedonia.

This is not the first time this year that the VMRO DPMNE has resorted to filibustering tactics.

In March, the party’s MPs used lengthy discussions as a delaying tactic in an attempt to prevent the election of speaker Xhaferi and stop the new government coming to office.