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Caretaker government should create democratic atmosphere for citizens to vote freely in elections: Spasovski tells MIA

This caretaker government is not formed for anyone to have more or less political credibility or legitimacy, but simply to embed ourselves together in the institutions and finally together to guarantee that through a fair democratic atmosphere the citizens will be given the opportunity to freely decide in which way the country will move in the coming period, Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski said in an interview with MIA.

Skopje, 18 January 2020 (MIA) – This caretaker government is not formed for anyone to have more or less political credibility or legitimacy, but simply to embed ourselves together in the institutions and finally together to guarantee that through a fair democratic atmosphere the citizens will be given the opportunity to freely decide in which way the country will move in the coming period, Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski said in an interview with MIA.

According to Spasovski, the current caretaker government differs significantly from that in 2016, which aimed to free up the atmosphere in the country so that citizens can vote freely at the elections. Now, when the country is democratic with free democratic institutions, the new caretaker government cabinet works on all country’s strategic priorities and to ensure fair and democratic elections.

Mr. Prime Minister, the concept of caretaker government was planned as an idea for conducting elections. How much does this concept contribute to the democratization of society?

Every concept and every chance to work together in a way that is in the interest of the citizens is helpful and must be respected. Although the circumstances under which this caretaker government is formed are not the same as those of the previous caretaker government. The current caretaker government differs significantly from that in 2016, which aimed to free up the atmosphere in the country so that citizens can vote freely at the elections.  Because the real decision will mean investing in the future of the country and decision that citizens will make freely and without any pressure. We had a regime that had existed for 11 years in the country and at that point, we had to form caretaker government. However, by the democratization of society, by creating North Macedonia a free country, a democratic country with free democratic institutions, we believe that the formation of this caretaker government at this time is certainly valuable, as a concept and we should all contribute to two directions. First, to guarantee that all country’s strategic priorities will continue thus ensuring our NATO membership, to do everything to open EU accession talks, to have functional institutions, to enable citizens to receive all services on time, to continue all projects and to ensure fair and democratic elections.

In the public, however, there is an impression that this cooperation between the government and the opposition does not work, but that the caretaker government has grown into an instrument of mutual conflicts and pre-election campaign. Was your appeal at Tuesday’s press conference in the context of reducing the public’s fears of these occurrences?

What I wanted to tell the people is that this government is functioning normally and that all institutions are functioning normally, but also to send a message to the political parties. It is one thing for you to be able to score political points, but not to do so at the cost of the country and the citizens, and our national interests. Simply put, politics is a struggle of concepts offered by political parties. This caretaker government is not formed for anyone to have more or less political credibility or legitimacy, but simply to embed ourselves together in the institutions and finally together we can guarantee that through a fair democratic atmosphere the citizens will be given the opportunity to freely decide in which way the country will move in the coming period. Therefore, I appealed that dialogue, as the highest democratic value must continue in this period. Together we should strive to move further, to take a step forward in strengthening the institutions and improve the perception of the citizens towards the institutions. Therefore, I think the comparison of that government that was set up to conduct the 2016 elections and the current one is simply impossible. Today, we have a country that will soon become a NATO member, country that will open accession negotiations with the EU, free country that has transparent institutions, responsible politicians, country in which reforms and the rule of law are implemented.

Interior Minister Chulev accused that during your term as Interior Minister, criminal structures were involved in the ministry. How do you comment on it?

I’ve talked a lot about the situation in the Ministry of Interior in the past and now. I just want to remind on the project “Truth for Macedonia” in which wiretapped conversations were published, in which VMRO staff was located in the Ministry of Interior where institutions and voters were abused, and during the period of previous caretaker government, we informed the citizens what was happening there. Nevertheless, it’s all past. We need to be focused on the future. Today we have the Ministry of Interior, which has begun reform processes and some key reforms have been successfully completed. I want to mention the communications monitoring system, which is fully completed with the formation of the Operational-Technical Agency. We reformed the Directorate of Security and Counterintelligence, new National Security Agency was established, and we financially stabilized the Ministry of Interior. Concerning criminal structures, I have made concrete moves to clear the institutions of those criminal structures and, and I am the one who first started to speak about conducting the vetting process in the institutions.

Calling snap general elections came after failing to obtain a date to open EU accession negotiations. Do you think you made a rash decision on snap elections, given that the election campaign coincides with the completion of ratification process of North Macedonia’s NATO Accession Protocol, the holding of the meeting of the European Council in March, as well as preparations for the EU-Western Balkans Summit?

I don’t think we made a rash decision at all. Over the past two and a half years the most important and difficult issues have been resolved in North Macedonia. I am talking about strategic issues that have opened the perspectives of this country and future generations. In addition, based on this, we set our reform priorities, which we are implementing in order to achieve our strategic goal – NATO and EU membership. And this is acknowledged by Europe and the world. Almost every EU country acknowledges the progress of the Republic of North Macedonia in this period. There is even a conclusion that the Republic of North Macedonia has made an incredible leap from what it was as a country in 2016, from a captive state, today we are country that is on the threshold of the European Union and we as a political structure, as a government have always been driven by the voice of the people.  We are trying to meet the needs of the people and to work hard. Therefore, we felt that after such a decision, which even the European Union itself found to be a strategic mistake, we felt that we should return the mandate to the citizens and ask the citizens to make the decision, in which way the Republic of North Macedonia will move in the coming period. I firmly believe that the citizens of North Macedonia will make the right move by making the right choice in the elections.

Two days ago, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Mr. Olivér Várhelyi visited the country and noted that a decision on opening accession talks could be taken before the Zagreb Summit. Is it possible to expect such a decision before the elections?

We have openly discussed about the perspectives of our entire region and I am very grateful to both the European Commissioner and the President of the European Commission, who prioritized the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and the support they provide with the concrete steps they have taken. Moreover, political structures in the country are also aimed at continuing the reform processes and priorities, strengthening the political dialogue in the country, building the interethnic relations in the country, economic growth and maintaining the situation in Macedonia as a pillar of stability in the region. Why? Because we have managed to close all open issues with our neighbours and we are the only country today that builds good, friendly and partnership relations with neighbouring countries. All these are good preconditions and arguments for the European Council to correct its unfair decision to North Macedonia related to setting a date to open accession talks. We will continue to give them arguments that we are firmly committed on the path we have set out and that our strategic interest in European Union membership has no alternative, and I hope that all these arguments will be taken into account when making the decision.

Parliament Speaker (Talat) Xhaferi urged the political parties to minimize the differences over the public prosecution law, and Mr. Várhelyi and other international officials had a message that it would be good to pass that law. If the law is not passed in this current parliament, do you think there could be any effect on delaying the decision to open accession negotiations again?

When I was talking about the democratic capacities of the institutions, and that includes the democratic capacities of the political parties, I mean first of all the political dialogue that is taking place in the country and the institutions. Parliament and Government will continue to seek answers to all issues that are important to the country’s progress, including the public prosecution law. We discussed with EU Enlargement Commissioner Várhelyi about adoption of the public prosecution law and he stressed that this is not a condition for the Republic of North Macedonia to get a date to open accession talks. However, it would be a very good move before the European Council that we are indeed making serious progress and in this respect, the responsibility of political parties is at a higher level in adopting this law. I believe that no one in the country should put personal or political interests above the interests of the country and the citizens. Therefore, I think we have a chance for dialogue, we have a chance to make serious progress in adopting laws. In addition, this is one of the laws that Parliament needs to debate and adopt in order to show that we are seriously prepared that even with the minimum national consensus North Macedonia should achieve its national goals.

The MPs adopted the Law on Assembly on Friday. What is your opinion on this matter?

The adoption of the Law on Assembly is a very important one, I would say a historic decision and we should point out the importance of this law to the citizens of North Macedonia. By adopting this law, the independence and the credibility of the parliament as institution is strengthened.

You met with H.H. Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on Monday in Istanbul, a meeting that has sparked many speculations, both in the country and in our neighborhood, even when the opposition has accused you of using the church for pre-election political marketing. What exactly was discussed at that meeting, and is it true that the Patriarch offered to mediate between the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC)?

The fact that the delegation was invited by H.H. Bartholomew I, speaks enough that it is indeed an important meeting, and immediately after the meeting I informed the public that we had a very pleasant, positive and long discussion on the issues that we supported the Patriarch to continue  to work on solving issues between Orthodox churches and believers,  and that dialogue is needed in order to address issues that mean disagreements between churches in our region. Certainly, it is very important for us to find a solution for the MOC. These are not decisions made by the government or the state. We just said that we have strong support in MOC, that there is a strong unity on finding a solution and we will leave the church to resolve that matter. We only support the entire process and we are hoping on finding a solution sooner.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed obstructions from DUI in the adoption of amendments to the Electoral Code, and now we have seen the Law on the Abolition of Lustration. How does the coalition between SDSM and DUI function?

The coalition between partners in government functions normally in the implementation of government programmes and of our priorities. There is some disagreement on the issues which is due to the strong democratic capacity that this and the previous Government have. We want to openly discuss about the issues. It is normal for political parties and political partners not to have a completely unified position on these issues and that we need to discuss and find a solution. However, it is not something that endangers the coalition or jeopardizes cooperation.

What are your expectations for the upcoming snap elections, both related to organization and implementation as well as the election results?

I believe that as a country we should do everything to have fair, democratic and free elections, that we should do everything to maintain the level of democratic capacity we had at the 2017, 2018, 2019 elections, when we showed that the Republic of North Macedonia has a serious democratic capacity in institutions to enable citizens to vote in peaceful, democratic and fair atmosphere. I expect that this will be the case with the snap general elections, that the citizens will really make the right decision, and that the Republic of North Macedonia will stay on the right track.

I assume you are convinced of the SDSM coalition victory in the elections. What are your next ambitions after the victory?

I am confident in the victory of the concept, which means progress of the country, continuation of all these processes, country’s EU integration, continuation of all the projects that have been started in this period, strong economic growth. What I personally expect is that I will never put my personal interest or expectations ahead of the interest of the citizens. For me the most important thing is for the citizens to win by making the right choice and see the country progressing.

Sashko Panajotov

Translated by Silvana Kochovska

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