Tales of mystery and imagination in Skopje

The November 11 no-confidence vote in Zoran Zaev’s government was stopped after an extremely difficult day for lack of a quorum. Extraordinary events during the day included the “disappearance” of a critical MP. This means that despite this week’s political turmoil, nothing changes at the top in Skopje for the time being. There is no word on when the vote will be rescheduled. 

Watch Bulgaria’s elections

All eyes are now focused on Bulgaria’s latest elections (the third attempt this year) set for November 14, with rumors and scenarios swirling around the North Macedonian capital that with a weakened Zaev in place, some kind of deal, essentially any deal that Sofia proposes, will be signed and the path to North Macedonian EU accession will be freed from Bulgaria’s longstanding veto. This may be far more than is actually possible since many EU member states are now opposed to rapid Enlargement, but it is the current scenario on offer. 

Evidence of foreign intervention in the vote

The tale of the political maneuvering on November 11 might someday make a good film, but we probably have not seen the final chapter. The day before the vote, it appeared that the right-wing nationalist party (VMRO-DPMNE) and its allies had gathered the 61 votes needed to topple the Zaev government in the country’s 120-seat parliament. But at the end of the day, the lack of 61 MPs physically in Parliament allowed for the cancellation of the no-confidence vote due to a simple lack of quorum (60 present 61 needed). Zaev’s SDSM party and its allies, with close to 59 votes, made sure its MPs were not present, which skillfully prevented the quorum for lack of one more MP. 

The mysterious part of this tale involves one ethnic Albanian MP, Kastriot Rexhepi, who had previously declared along with his small party (BESA) that he would no longer support Zaev’s government. Somehow, somebody still unidentified managed to influence him to absent himself from parliament and send a message on Facebook explaining his new position. 

Rexhepi said in his Facebook post: “For the good of processes and amid strong signals from our strategic partners, the US and the EU countries, which I received from high-ranking diplomatic representatives, I decided not to attend the session.” It will take years and a number of various freedom of information act/disclosure requests to retrieve classified diplomatic correspondence from western embassies so as to identify Rexhepi’s interlocutors over the previous week.  Rexhepi is reported to retain close professional connections with The Netherlands embassy in Skopje, where he was once employed.

MPs in Skopje have in a number of critical votes in the past switched positions at the last minute, although it is usually after a government tax inspector comes calling that a mysterious transformation occurs (something western embassies in Skopje never comment on, despite constantly arguing for more open and democratic political processes). On occasion, a foreign ambassador has been known to lobby recalcitrant MPs ahead of key votes, as well, such as the ratification of the 2018 Prespes Agreement with Greece.

BESA is not taking all of these machinations sitting down. After Rexhepi’s no-show in parliament, BESA spokesperson Arianit Hoxha accused the ruling parties of using “threats, blackmails and other forms of influence” to foil the vote.

“BESA will continue the fight […] The cooperation with the opposition will continue until the next [opportunity to] topple this regime,” he said.

What is striking, however, is the lack of commentary from the army of pro-democracy NGOs in Skopje and the region about the November 11 machinations, since keeping their preferred candidate in power is essential for them

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