The Macedonian political crisis, which started in February last year and intensified over the last few months, reached another peak last week. This post was initially intended to present the results of the early election on June 5th. In the course of the events over the last few days, the topic slightly shifted: away from the parliamentary elections towards an analysis of the political crisis in Macedonia and the president’s role in it. In the following I will briefly describe the spying and corruption scandal, which triggered the political crisis and analyze the presidential role in the pardoning of a variety of accused and involved persons.
In February 2015, Zoran Zaev, head of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and leader of Macedonia’s opposition made the news of a dramatic spying operation public. The information on the spying was shared – most probably – by a whistle blower within the intelligence service. This operation was reportedly initiated and used by then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE). Media reports and international observers argue that Gruevski – as one media outlet put it “wanted to know exactly was going on in the country” (Less 2016). Gruevski used this knowledge to preserve and even expand his political influence and power. It is also reported that he had knowledge over a variety of business enterprises and used this for his personal gain. These tapes revealed fraud, government corruption, criminality and various events of misconduct by all levels of government. Thus, not only did these tapes reveal massive corruption and illegal behavior but also that the highest level of government was informed. Florian Bieber characterized the tapings as follows: „The content of the tapes reveals a comprehensive, deep, and sophisticated system of corrupt and authoritarian rule, while the conversations are marked with profanity, hate speech, slander and ethnic slurs that are unacceptable in everyday communication“ (Bieber 2015).
After months of political unrest and protests the European Union finally became involved and forced the rivaling political parties of Macedonia to settle their conflict with the Pržino Agreement (EU Commission 2015). This agreement was aimed to allow for a peaceful resignation of the government (in particular PM Gruevski in January 2016) and the establishment of a special prosecutor to investigate the corruption revealed by the tapes.
Against the suggestions of the leading opposition party, early parliamentary elections were scheduled for June 5, 2016 after a controversial dissolution of parliament. To further hamper the accounting of the tapings and thus increase the conflict intensity, President Gjorge Ivanov pardoned “dozens of public figures embroiled in a wiretapping scandal” (RFE/RL 2016). This decision was criticized by nearly all political parties (also from some of those involved in the scandal) and triggered again massive protests throughout the country (Marusic 2016).
The decision to pardon is – from a more general perspective – part of a legal tradition one would associate primarily with common law countries as the power of the monarch. However, most civil and common-law countries have traditionally established some form of clemency or executive pardon (Novak 2015). Most famously is probably the U.S. context, particular the 1974 pardoning of former President Richard Nixon by then President Henry Ford (see Crouch 2008). In Eastern Europe we can observe a variety of ways in which the president has the right to issue a legislative amnesty or executive clemency; e.g. the Polish case comes to mind. The Polish President can issue a pardon without countersignature by the responsible minister or the prime minister (although for some competences the countersignature is indeed necessary, Art. 144 constitution). In the Macedonian case, the president possesses similar power in this respect, Art. 84 of the constitution reads: “[the president] grants pardons in accordance with the law”. As in the polish case, a countersignature by the prime minister is not envisaged (and is in general not stipulated in the constitution).
In line with this competence, President Ivanov pardoned a group of 56 politicians (and their associates), who were involved in the earlier mentioned spying and corruption scandal. Among the pardoned persons were the former Prime Minister Gruevski and other presidential allies. Furthermore, in an attempt to offer a „blanket amnesty“ (Casule 2016) he also pardoned the opposition leader Zoran Zaev as an ally of the whistleblower. In yet another move, facing massive public protests, Ivanov revoked his decision for 22 of the 56 persons initially pardoned. Parliament had in an earlier decision provided the legal means to revoke the pardoning decision.
This was accompanied by the decision of the constitutional court to stop all activity related to the snap elections. After the constitutional court declared the dissolution of the assembly unconstitutional – following the complaint of one coalition partner (DUI, Democratic Union for Integration) – parliament decided to move the elections as all political parties, except the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, boycotted the elections in the aftermaths of the pardons (Mikhaylova 2016). Deputies of the national assembly then decided to postpone the snap election (without confirming a new date). The decision was made with 96 votes in favor out of 123 votes (Marusic 2016).
To contribute one more element to the political crisis, parliament – upon the proposal of 50 deputies from the Social Democrats – decided to start proceedings for the impeachment of President Ivanov (Parliament 2016). It is highly unlikely that the parliamentary groups will find a consensus and cooperate in this matter. Thus, the impeachment process will most likely fail. Yet, it remains to be seen if the uprising against the corrupt practices in the streets of Skopje and throughout the country will lead to a genuine democratic development or will run its course.
Bieber, Florian (2015): Gruevski Does Not Deserve Any More Chances. June 23, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/blog/gruevski-does-not-deserve-any-more-chances (last accessed June 5, 2016).
Casule, Kaev (2016): Macedonian president pardons 56 in wiretap scandal, U.S. raps move. April 13, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-wiretap-usa-idUSKCN0XA1ZB (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Crouch, Jeffrey. “The law: Presidential misuse of the pardon power.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 38.4 (2008): 722-734.
European Commission (2015): Agreement in Skopje to overcome political crisis. July 15, in:
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/hahn/announcements/agreement-skopje-overcome-political-crisis_en (last accessed June 5, 2016).
Less, Timothy (2016): Macedonia is reaching crisis point and the West is looking the other way. June 2, in:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/macedonia-reaching-crisis-point-the-west-is-looking-the-other-way-a7061541.html (last accessed June 3, 2016).
Marusic, Sinisa Jakov (2016): Macedonia President Pardons Politicians Facing Charges,. April 12, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-president-abolishes-incriminated-politicians-04-12-2016#sthash.w6BHkrby.dpuf (last accessed June 2, 2016).
Mikhaylova, Marina (2016): Macedonia’s Constitutional Court annuls parliament dissolution. May 25, in: https://seenews.com/news/macedonias-constitutional-court-annuls-parliament-dissolution-526229#.dpuf (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Novak, Andrew. Comparative Executive Clemency: The Constitutional Pardon Power and the Prerogative of Mercy in Global Perspective. Routledge, 2015.
Parliament (2016): Седници на работни тела. June 6, in: http://www.sobranie.mk/agenda-2016-ns_article-committee-on-evaluation-6-6-16.nspx (last accessed June 6, 2016).
RFE/RL (2016): Macedonian Opposition Sets Conditions For Talks On Settling Crisis. April 21, in: http://www.rferl.org/content/macedonian-opposition-sets-conditions-talks-on-settling-political-crisis/27687571.html (last accessed June 3, 2016).