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New Government, Old Problems in Macedonia

December 17, 2004

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The Macedonian Parliament today swore in a new government, following weeks of negotiations between Prime Minister Vlade Buckovski and his coalition partners.

The new line-up, consisting of figures from the same SDSM-LDP-DUI coalition, features several new faces but also retains several incumbents. While the incoming officials stressed their hope for positive results in statements today, old problems have to be confronted first.According to MIA, Parliament approved the new government by a tally of 71 votes in favor and 25 opposed.

The 18 ministers in Buckovski’s cabinet include Jovan Manasievski, who will replace him as Defense Minister; Ljubomir Mihajlovski as Interior Minister; Meri Mladenovska-Gjorgjievska as Justice Minister and, reprising their positions in the former government, Ilinka Mitreva as Foreign Minister and Nikola Popovski as Finance Minister.

The Albanian DUI coalition partners received a generous number of important ministries (as well as vice-minister positions across the board). Fatmir Besimi will be Minister of Economy while, replacing the controversial Agron Buxhaku, Xhemali Mehazi will fill in as Minister of Transport and Communication. Former NLA commander Sadula Duraku is slated to be Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supply. Reprising their former roles are Azis Polozani as Minister of Education and Science and Rizvan Sulejmani as Minister of Local Self-Government.

Other appointments include: Vladimir Dimov as Minister of Health; Stevco Jakimovski as Minister of Labor and Social Policy; Zoran Sapuric as Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning; and finally, Radmila Sekerinska, Musa Xhaferi, Minco Jordanov and Vlado Popovski becoming Ministers without Portfolio.

In stressing the priorities of his new government, Prime Minister Buckovski emphasized the usual goals: NATO/EU integration, economic development, judicial reforms and the fight against corruption, and of course, implementation of the beloved Ohrid Framework Agreement.

As he has for the past two years, Buckovski promised Macedonia would receive an invitation for NATO membership in 2006. More sensationally, he also promised that Macedonia would “acquire EU candidate status” during his tenure and that the onerous Schengen visa regime would be waived for Macedonian citizens, though gave no reason to explain how this might happen. EU officials say privately that it will not take place for 4-5 years and must be done as part of a “package” with other Western Balkans states.

Some analysts have expressed concern over whether Macedonian defense reform will sputter, now that Buckovski will no longer be directly overseeing the NATO integration process. To allay these fears, incoming Defense Minister Jovan Manasievski stated that efforts would be redoubled in 2005, a year that will prove “crucial” for Macedonia’s drive towards NATO membership.

“…In addition to legal changes, adopted by the Parliament, we should demonstrate ability for practical interoperability, i.e. the Macedonian Army units should be fully interoperable with those of NATO,” said Manasievski for MIA, adding that Macedonia should also be prepared to continue contributing to “peace and humanitarian missions” such as the one in Iraq.

For his part, new Interior Minister Ljubomir Mihajlovski pledged that his ministry “would not allow a repetition” of the farcical stand-off in Kondovo, in which the Macedonian police oversaw for months a steady Albanian arms buildup and did nothing, until they were finally unceremoniously removed from the village. The situation remains unresolved.

Mihajlovski admitted that for success, Macedonia’s police depend in large part on civic cooperation. “…Honest people live in Macedonia and MoI expects their support in combating criminal structures in the country,” he stated Friday. “Without such support, we shall lose the battle in advance.”

Newly appointed Minister of Economy, the Albanian Fatmir Besimi, spoke of his desire to implement “a crucial reform process” to try and jump-start the Macedonian economy. His views were seconded by Transport and Communication Minister Xhemali Mehazi, a replacement for the controversial Agron Buxhaku, who unexpectedly resigned following a continual barrage of criticism from Buckovski and the Macedonian press. However Buxhaku, fingered in various corruption scandals, is not going away; he will remain Ali Ahmeti’s right-hand man as DUI Vice-President.

In this context, Mehazi’s stated goals seem a direct response to the accusations leveled by outgoing Prime Minister Hari Kostov, who complained that obstructionism on economic reforms from his “coalition partners” (and especially Buxhaku) was endangering Macedonia’s economic and political course. Mehazi’s announcement that he will work on “…harmonization of Macedonian laws with EU legislation, and infrastructure development” comes as a tacit recognition of Kostov’s charges.

Even as Buxhaku exits the stage, Macedonian distrust is turning to Sadula Duraku, incoming Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supply. In a perverse yet perfectly consistent irony, the new master of Macedonia’s water is actually the man personally responsible for one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 2001 war – the blockage of water supply to the city of Kumanovo for almost two months in the summer heat, depriving the citizens, hospital and other public resources of water in one of Macedonia’s most populous cities.

While a wicked irony indeed, the appointment of Duraku to the post could have more serious effects on the Macedonian agricultural sector. Considering that Albanians have consistently complained that successive governments have ignored their agricultural interests, it is possible that Duraku will favor Albanian interests over those of Macedonian farmers in the non-Albanian central and eastern parts of the country.

For his part, new Health Minister Vlado Dimov spoke of the need to make controversial reforms “more fair” and “less painful.” Health care reform has been one of the most difficult and chronic issues facing Macedonia over the past few years.

Does the new government have legs? It will be interesting to watch what happens, first of all in regards to the unresolved Kondovo situation which continues to waste precious time and attention from more important matters. It will also be interesting to see what fate befalls “minister without portfolio”

Radmila Sekerinska, who previously had a very high profile in the Crvenkovski and Kostov governments. Reputed to be Branko’s favorite for the future of the party, the young and ambitious Sekerinska may continue sparring behind the scenes with rival Buckovski. If she does not pick up a more visible role, it may well turn out that Sekerinska bides her time, waiting for the government to fail.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that a governing coalition with approval ratings in the teens can miraculously recover lost voter trust by a simple reshuffle. Some of the faces may be new, but the promises are the same – as are the unresolved problems Macedonia faces today.

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