Macedonia Opposition Demands Referendums on Migrants

Macedonia's main opposition party is demanding the right to hold municipal referendums against a supposed plan to settle Middle Eastern refugees in the country on the same day as the October local elections.
Refugees in Macedonia. Archive photo: BIRN

Macedonia’s opposition VMRO DPMNE party is pushing to hold local referendums on the same day in October as the local elections, on a supposed government plan to settle thousands of migrants from the Middle East in various towns.

Bitola, Stip, Radovish, Prilep, Kocani, Negotino, Kavadarci and Gevgelija are just some of the 20 municipalities that have adopted decisions to holding referendums against the alleged plan – which the new Social Democrat-led government says does not exist.

“We demand that the State Electoral Commission, DIK, allow these referendums on October 15 because many citizens have already stood up against the government plan’s to settle refugees,” VMRO DPMNE said in a press statement.

While no one contests the right to hold such local referendums, the party’s insistence on holding them on October 15, the day of the local elections, is seen as problematic.

“Carrying out of these two things in tandem creates a problem. I think it is against the electoral rules because it would upset the [election] procedure,” law professor Osman Kadriu said on Wednesday.

“A referendum is carried out under different rules and procedures from an election. It would be unacceptable for them to take place on the same day,” Kadriu added.

Pro-VMRO DPMNE media have made much of the planned supposed settlement of migrants from the war-torn Middle East in various towns.

After losing power nationally in May, in July the party accused the new government of adopting a new draft strategy for dealing with refugees and migrants which it claimed contained a plan to settle thousands of refugees from the Middle East in Macedonia.

The government has denied this as a lie intended to skew the outcome of the local elections, and has accused the opposition for spreading alarm and false information.

Despite that, municipalities under VMRO DPMNE control have gone ahead with adopting decisions to hold referendums against the alleged plan.

Deputy Minister for Local Government Dragan Tevdovski on Wednesday said he had nothing against referendums.

However, he suggested they should take place on a separate, later date, in order for the people to get better informed about the issues first.

“The goal of a democracy is to organize elections in which people can freely choose, and the institutions and the country must do everything to protect that process,” he said.

“On the other hand, the referendum is also a constitutional category about which every functional democracy should take maximum care,” Tevdovski added.

The State Electoral Commission, DIK, has not yet discussed the issue.

During the refugee crisis in 2015, about a million refugees crossed Macedonia and then Serbia on their way to EU countries.

A few of them, some 200 in all, remain stranded in Macedonia – around 130 in the migrant camp in Gevgelija and another 80 in Tabanovce, on the northern border with Serbia.