Macedonia's crucial deal with Greece hinges on tiny ethnic Albanian party

Macedonia's crucial deal with Greece hinges on tiny ethnic Albanian party
PM Zoran Zaev tried on January 10 to persuade Bilall Kasami (pictured), leader of the small ethnic Albanian party Besa, to back the name deal.
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje January 10, 2019

The Macedonian parliament speaker postponed the session on the final vote on constitutional changes related to the name deal with Greece for one day on January 10, as Prime Minister Zoran Zaev failed to muster the two-thirds majority due to demands from ethnic Albanian politicians. 

In a tense day in the parliament, Zaev tried to persuade Bilall Kasami, leader of the small ethnic Albanian party Besa, to back the deal. Besa has only two MPs, but these are needed to secure a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat parliament. However, Kasami insisted that his MPs won’t vote if their demands are not accepted.

Specifically, Kasami wants the word “Macedonian” in front of “citizen of North Macedonia” in the clause on citizenship to be removed.

However, this is not acceptable either for Zaev or for the eight opposition MPs who supported the amendments in the first round of voting, defying the VMRO-DPMNE party leadership, and resulting in them being expelled from the party. Their votes are also needed for the changes to pass. 

Law professor and former interior and foreign minister from the ranks of the ruling SDSM, Ljubomir Frckovski, called the demands from Besa scandalous and disrespectful, saying they go directly against Macedonian identity.

Under the name deal, Macedonia will be renamed North Macedonia, which will settle a longstanding dispute with Greece that has blocked its neighbour’s entry to the EU and Nato over the issue. 

The parliament session was initially scheduled for 13.00 local time, then Xhaferi re-scheduled it for 15.00, but after Zaev failed to agree with Besa’s leader the session was postponed until the following day. 

Meanwhile, the protest by several organisations against the name deal continued in front of the parliament and was joined by the leader of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party Hristijan Mickoski. Mickoski said his party will do everything to ensure the name deal does not succeed, saying that he is against the change of the country’s name.

“This agreement is harmful,” he reiterated.

If the two-majority of votes is not secured, Zaev said that he will convene the central committee of his governing SDSM party to seek responsibility for the failure.

Meanwhile, former prime minister and ex-leader of VMRO-DPMNE Nikola Gruevski, who recently fled to Budapest to avoid a two-year prison sentence and was granted political asylum, said on his Facebook page that Macedonia can reach a better agreement with Greece.

“For MPs from the majority in the parliament, this is not a night for sleeping. This night is the last chance for thinking about putting national ahead of party and personal interests,” Gruevski said in a post.

The constitutional changes needed for the implementation of the name deal with Greece are crucial for Macedonia to become a Nato member and to launch EU accession talks.

Greece will only unblock Macedonia's EU and Nato integration processes if the deal is implemented.