Skopje, 4 July 2020 (MIA) – Administration reform, change of the electoral model by introducing a single electoral district and open lists, cutting the number of MPs, cutting unproductive public spending, and investing in the top priorities of a society – education and health, are the key projects presented by the Civic Democratic Union (GDU) in the election campaign ahead of the July 15 parliamentary polls.
GDU leader Petar Kolev in an interview with MIA points out there can be no order and prosperity unless there is justice and fairness. According to him, it’s more than clear that the Macedonian society has a serious problem with the rule of law, and GDU’s greater focus is on judiciary reform.
In the coming elections, GDU has serious and realistic expectations in several electoral districts. “However, our goal is not power, it’s not being part of the ruling structure. Our goal is to bring about change in society, but through setting a personal example,” Kolev tells MIA.
Read the full interview and watch the video below.
The election campaign is on. You have already promoted your program to the voters. Could you briefly name five key things with which you are to attract voters?
Yes, GDU is promoting its program, but not a political program that goes on about construction of some street, pathway, or how we are supposed to talk about a computer for every child in the 21st century, because if we’re still talking about these topics from today’s perspective, it means that someone has slept through these past 30 years.
As GDU, we have a clear and concise program which sublimates our political philosophies about the basic segments of social development and sectors in society.
Our first priority is the political system. Many of the problems of our society are directly related to the way the political system works. This is the reality and the truth about the political system, which is an expensive, bureaucratic voting machine following orders of political leaders.
What precisely do we have in mind when talking about representative democracy? To change the electoral model by introducing open lists that limit the power of political leaders and focus on quality of MP candidates. This is an important priority to give the power, sovereignty back to the citizens. They are the ones to decide from the open lists who will represent them in Parliament and be directly accountable to voters.
In GDU, we believe in small, effective, professional and upgraded state administration. The current bureaucratic system is machinery that very often acts as a brake, a regressive element with all those normative acts, licenses, permits, instead of creating conditions for development, progress in society. That’s why reform is needed in the administration, but it should start from the top of the pyramid. If we, as politicians, want to convince our society and our fellow citizens that we’re ready to bring about reform, we need to start by setting a personal example.
That’s why GDU is focused on cutting the number of MPs. Macedonia doesn’t need a Parliament of 120 members. Slovenia’s model of 90 MPs is fit for Macedonia and it should be implemented. Then, there’s the spending. Just think about it, the Parliament is spending EUR 7 million on salaries alone. Using half of that money, we can build a modern school after the German model, providing education to 800 pupils. The 2020 budget for the Macedonian Parliament is EUR 10 million. Is it right for a country that has a budget deficit of one billion and two hundred million to spend EUR 10 million on such unproductive spending.
Also, Macedonia no longer needs a Government of 21 to 22 ministers. The practice of buying political peace by appointing ministers without portfolio should once and for all end in our society. One third of the Macedonian ministers are, in fact, ministers without portfolio who only receive salary but have no obligations really. Macedonia can work wonderfully with 15 ministers. Much more developed countries with strong economies work with 15 ministers.
So, that’s our starting point – administration reform and change of the electoral model. Macedonia needs a single electoral district and open lists, 90 MPs, which is in fact the model of the European Parliament, too. When we close this issue and succeed cutting unproductive public spending, I believe we’ll have the resources to really invest as a country in the other two major priorities for a society. These are education and health. If we fail at building an educated, modern Macedonian nation, a future generation that can rise to the challenge of the large European market, then as politicians we have done a lousy job.
What is the main project you’re focused on and would implement if given the opportunity after the elections?
There can be no order and prosperity unless there is justice and fairness. It’s more than clear that the Macedonian society has a serious problem with the rule of law. GDU’s greater focus is on judiciary reform, and I’ll tell you what we think on judiciary accountability. Judges should be held personally accountable for erroneous judicial decisions. If it’s proven that a judge has made an erroneous decision driven by motives outside the law, then the judge should no longer have the right to practice the profession, and no longer have the right to pension.
Nowhere in the world there’s action without reaction or counter-action. One of the main problems in our judicial system is that many of the judges are motivated by other arguments in making court decisions. There are honorable exceptions, of course. As far as the public prosecution is concerned, we have a “provocative” idea. It’s more than clear that in Macedonia the tentacles of politics are at work in the public prosecution.
Also, it’s more than clear that every citizen is firmly convinced that the Macedonian public prosecution is directly dependent on political power centers. Then why won’t we politicians bear responsibility for the public prosecution and are hiding behind some so-called Council of Public Prosecutors or some other corrupt public prosecutor. Let’s take political responsibility for appointing the chief public prosecutor and creating the public prosecution structure in Macedonia. GDU stands ready for this, and I hope our political opponents are also up for taking political responsibility for staffing the public prosecution. The empty phrase that the public prosecution is independent – I believe our people have long now been convinced that this is not the case. And, what is actually the U.S. model? In the U.S. , local sheriffs, too, are appointed by the politicians and the politicians take responsibility for their way of work. Let’s implement this in Macedonia, too.
Economy will prove to be the biggest challenge in the period to come considering the consequences from the coronavirus crisis. What kind of projects is GDU offering to improve the economic situation in the country?
If we know that the main pillar of the Macedonian economy are small and medium companies, the companies that have one to nine employees, then it’s more than clear that focus on these companies should be the main priority of the next Macedonian government.
As regards COVID-19 measures, we’ve voiced criticism several times, especially in terms of the economy, as funds weren’t aimed at the real businesses that need them for the small and medium companies, but structures of various oligarchs, betting houses, companies that have tens of millions of euros in the past few years, which in my opinion can survive this crisis on their own. It’s the craftspersons, small and medium businesses that are at risk.
GDU finds cuts in administration necessary to free up public funds. This will give us the opportunity to reduce taxes. All our political opponents talk about tax cuts, but not one of them is saying how they will close the budget gap. Therefore, GDU pledges to make cuts in administration and public spending in order to reduce taxes in the country. We’re talking about reducing VAT, which should be at 12 percent, for a family business – a topic that no one in Macedonia wants to open. This should be the main priority for regional development.
The country has unique election campaign under unprecedented conditions amid a COVID-19 epidemic. How are you promoting your programs to the voters?
These are certainly not the most favorable conditions for a political campaign, and in these conditions we’re doing our best to reach out to a maximum number of citizens and I’m grateful for the cooperation of the media. It opens up an opportunity for us to do this swiftly, but of course we also have meetings with citizens and debates.
There’s no perfectionism in human relation. Perhaps in all the movement and day to day communication, some of the meetings could blunder, but not on purpose. It’s only human to make a mistake. No human on earth today who has 15/20 meetings and talks with different people could convince me that measures are perfectly followed. To me, that’s hypocritical.
We do try to respect the conditions by avoiding large gatherings and limit the number of people. At the same time, we’re trying to explain to citizens, via media and our sincere commitment to bring about change through personal example, that voter turnout is important in the coming parliamentary elections.
DUI’s motto for the July 15 elections is ‘First Albanian PM’. The party’s candidate for next prime minister is Naser Ziberi. What do you think of DUI’s strategy? What could it mean for Albanian voters in the country?
I can’t say how this idea would affect citizens, whether they are Macedonians, Albanians, or any of our fellow citizens. It’s more than clear that DUI, in these 20 years of being part of the government, has proved to be an absolutely non-cooperative coalition partner.
As regards the next prime minister of Macedonia, if memory serves me well, we’re still a parliamentary republic. If Ahmeti has derogated the importance of the Macedonian Constitution, he should say so because Ali Ahmeti is not the one who decides who will be the country’s prime minister, and it’s neither Zoran Zaev nor Mickoski nor Petar Kolev. It is the citizens who decide in fair, democratic parliamentary elections. If the majority of citizens approve Ahmeti’s proposal, the candidate for prime minister, I would wish him success in his work.
But, deep inside something tells me that this model of ethnic confrontation during an election campaign in which no one wants to talk about education, economy, health, could backfire for DUI in terms of wide support.
GDU’s position is clear. We will not be part of a government that includes the Democratic Union for Integration. Not because they have a candidate for Albanian PM, but because in their 20 years of being on the political scene, many of their members were part of corrupt schemes in the country and we haven’t seen any of them take any responsibility. Sometimes this is a question of manhood. If you do something wrong and outside law and regulations, it would be a man’s responsibility to stand before the nation and face up to it, regardless of ethnic background.
What’s your take on the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria? What do you think of the recent Bulgarian challenging of the Macedonian language?
Macedonia has formulated its basic priorities in foreign policy since 1993/1994. These are NATO and European Union membership. The agreements with Greece and Bulgaria are the result of political pressure, a diplomatic pressure with a clear goal of Macedonia joining NATO and starting accession negotiations with the EU.
After the signing of the agreement with Bulgaria, unfortunately, the focus and the spirit of the agreement have shifted. A lot of politicians both in Macedonia and in Bulgaria tried to drive negative political points on the basis of a friendship and cooperation agreement. I’m not a man who deals with populism and plays with people’s emotions during a campaign and then goes somewhere in the European Parliament or holds a meeting with someone and says he supports absolutely everything. I’m a pragmatist and I believe that the agreement with Bulgaria should be looked at when the waters are calm. When the Macedonian institutions are formed and the Bulgarian institutions are not in times of elections, we should sit down and close the issues.
I believe in good neighborly relations of Macedonia with all its neighbors. But grounded in a principle of equality. If we really have mutual respect with Sofia, it should be an equal respect. They should respect us as much as we respect them.
What do you expect from the coming elections? How many seats GDU expects to win? What would you consider as possible coalition options?
We are sensible people. Given the results we achieved at the local elections in Ohrid, where we got 6 percent as a party, we expect a good result in these elections. But don’t expect us to say that we’ll work a miracle. It is clear to us that the political space GDU has entered needs time to develop. However, we do have serious and realistic expectations in several electoral districts, and I believe we’ll get a decent result.
However, our goal is not power, it’s not being part of the ruling structure. Our goal is to bring about change in society, but through setting a personal example. Let’s try to provoke the critical intellectual mass in Macedonia on the basis of our political views. Let’s try to launch this process of change together. This is why we expect to have a decent campaign. As anyone can see, our campaign is extremely positive. In it, we’re trying to explain our views on specific issues, and based on these views and perceptions, we expect the people’s support.
As regards coalition options, apart from the fact that we would never be part of a government that includes DUI, which is our principled position due to their retrograde policies, I can’t say who we would consider as a possible coalition option or whether we’d participate in a government at all. Let’s see the programs of the parties. You know, many of the political promises ahead of elections ultimately turn out to be lies. We expect a clear document with ten clear priorities of a government. If we recognize GDU’s policies in those priorities, we’ll back that government. If not, there’s nothing wrong in having a new political party in Macedonia, young politicians in opposition.
Translated by Nevenka Nikolikj
Photos: Darko Popov
Video: Aslan Vishko