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Political Parties Decide December 11 to be Election Date in Macedonia

Late on Wednesday evening, the leaders of the four largest Macedonian political parties decided to set the date for early elections on December 11. According to the agreement that was signed by the four leaders and was witnessed by the Ambassadors of the United States and the European Union, the four leaders confirm that this time all the conditions for holding early elections have been met. Two previous attempts to hold elections this April and June were cancelled after the opposition SDSM party refused to participate, citing that all conditions were not met.

Under the agreement, the Parliament will be dissolved according to Macedonia's constitution, while the Government to organize the upcoming poll is to be elected on 2 September 2016 in accordance with the 20 July 2016 Agreement. This provided that SDSM will appoint two ministers and three deputy ministers in departments that include the Interior and the Finance Ministry. SDSM also appointed Santa Argirova as its choice to be editor-in-chief of the MRTV state owned television service as of September 2, for the next 100 days. Regarding the Media Committee that will monitor how other, commercial TV and radio stations report on the elections, the parties agreed to nominate Lulzim Haziri, an NGO activist from Gostivar, as the fifth member of this body, where two VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM representatives already sit. The Media Agency, through which the Committee will operate, is also called to use an older version of the media monitoring guidelines that is seen as stricter than the one adopted by the Agency last week.

The leaders also commit to a democratic and competitive election campaign, free of violence and intimidation. They will condemn any use of language, or any kind of action, which might incite violence and intimidation, today's agreement reads. The meeting began around 2:00 pm at the Club of the members of Parliament, and lasted for hours before VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski left the talks to say that he has accepted all requests raised by SDSM, in order to avoid giving the opposition party yet another excuse to avoid the elections. Gruevski said that he leaves SDSM with the other two parties, DUI and DPA, to hammer out remaining issues between them, mainly the appointment of an ethnic Albanian candidate in the Media Committee, where SDSM insisted on one candidate, but some of the Albanian parties raised objections.

"SDSM has shown that they don't want an impartial and independent solution for MRTV and they opted for a political appointee", said Gruevski about SDSM's choice for editor-in-chief of the public TV broadcaster. "The guidelines are another issue where SDSM apparently wants to delay agreement on the elections. We blank accepted their position on this as well. Whatever media guidelines they want, we will accept them. On the fifth member of this Media Committee, we decided to allow SDSM and the two Albanian parties to reach an agreement who it should be", he added before temporarily leaving the talks.

Several hours later, after SDSM, DUI and DPA agreed between themselves, Gruevski returned to sign the joint statement which contains the date for elections.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said that the elections will be a referendum at which SDSM will defeat the Nikola Gruevski led VMRO-DPMNE.

"On December 11 we will defeat poverty, crime, corruption, ethnic divisions and hatred. We will defeat the engineered court cases, the purges, the politization of institutions and the mafia. We must put an end to the emigration of young people. Respected citizens, I call on you to mobilize en masse, all citizens for the victory of Macedonia", Zaev said, also calling on the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party not to touch the Special Public Prosecutor's Office (SPO), which, according to Zaev, is a bright spot in the judiciary. Zaev spoke about the SPO when asked whether there is something that might yet cause the agreement to hold elections to unravel.

Gruevski said that SDSM's commitment to go to the polls should again be taken with a grain of salt, given their past two evasions. "We can never be sure what they'll do in the meantime. Everything they decided to ask for today has been accepted and answered, so they had to sign the statement that they will go to the polls, and give the voters the final word. We want to be in that situation, to have the voters decide", said Gruevski, whose party maintains a solid lead over SDSM in the opinion polls.

Other party leaders welcomed the agreement. DUI leader Ali Ahmeti said that this is a great day for Macedonia. When asked whether the fifth member of the Media Committee is a DUI appointee, Ahmeti said that the party leaders, at their separate meeting, did not discuss names. DPA leader Menduh Thaci, whose party will not be in the interim Government, said that the other three parties bear most of the responsibility.

 "It is however more important for the parties that will make up the government as of Friday to contribute for the conduct of elections to be become reality on the ground. DPA will continue to be constructive, and for our party the international factor ­ the US, EU and other institutions that will monitor the elections ­ remain to be our top guarantor", Thaci said.

European Union foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn issued a statement shortly after the meeting ended, to welcome its outcome. 
"We welcome that the leaders of the four main political parties took a number of important decisions on the way ahead in implementing their political agreement of last year, including setting the date of the early parliamentary election for December 11. We call on all political parties to strictly observe a credible electoral process, to allow all citizens a free choice and, after the elections, to build a government that tackles crucial reforms and works for the interests of all citizens. In the same vein, all political forces must urgently reenergize their efforts to implement the rest of the political agreement, including the Urgent Reform Priorities", Mogherini and Hahn said in their statement which also adds that the European Union will continue its support this process and to help Macedonia return to its Euro-­Atlantic path.

United States Ambassador Jess Baily and the EU embassy representative Lukas Holub who also took part in the talks, gave statements to the press. 
" The US and EU are proud to have helped the leaders in this process and we do believe that this can be an important step in resolving the political crisis in the country. We will do what we can in the weeks and months ahead to help ensure that there are credible elections, that it meets the conditions, that it allows the citizens to vote freely without intimidation. At the end of the day what is most important is what parties, the media, citizens themselves do. You all members of the media will play a really important role in that and I urge you to do what you can so that the citizens are informed with their choices of the issues and the personalities of the candidates who will be running to lead this country", said Baily.

Asked whether there is still danger to delay the elections, Baily said that, as things stand right now, all the parties agreed to the elections. "The parties have agreed to it. They are the ones who decide on when the elections are held and when elections are not held. They said the conditions are met, and they will be held".

Holub called on all possible allegations of wrongdoing during the elections to be investigated.
"The decision of the leaders tonight shows the political will to move the country forward. It is now for all the parties to ensure that the citizens have the free choice in credible elections. Of course, any allegations of intimidation and wrongdoing are properly addressed by relevant institutions and by the parties themselves".

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