May 11, 2016 / 2:44 PM / 3 years ago

Macedonia's Albanian minority parties to join election boycott

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Two Albanian political parties in Macedonia said on Wednesday they would join a boycott of parliamentary election on June 5 in protest at government control over the media and state bodies, raising doubts about the viability of the poll.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski delivers a speech during a rally Skopje, Macedonia, May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The early election was called last month after lawmakers dissolved parliament as part of an European Union-brokered deal to end the political deadlock linked to a wire-tapping scandal.

Macedonia has been in turmoil since February last year, when the opposition accused then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief of wiretapping more than 20,000 people.

The wire-tapping exposed tight government control over journalists, judges and the conduct of elections.

The two parties represent Macedonia’s Albanian minority in parliament - about one third of the population.

The opposition Social Democrats had already pledged to boycott the election, saying they will not take part until a free and fair vote can be held.

The Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a junior partner in the coalition government, said it would not register candidates by a Wednesday midnight deadline.

Asked whether the DUI would submit candidates, party spokesman Bujar Osmani said by text message: “The answer is no.”

The opposition Democratic Party of Albanians was quoted as saying it would also not register candidates.

“We have already said that the conditions for fair and democratic elections on June 5 are not met, and that’s why we won’t take part in them,” DPA spokesman Luan Tresi told the Plusinfo internet portal. Party officials were not immediately available.

The parties want electoral rolls to be brought up to date, media to be freed from government control, and ruling party officials to be prevented from running government bodies.

President Gjorge Ivanov has pardoned 56 officials involved in the scandal despite street protests and national and international calls on him to change his mind.

The European Union has threatened sanctions against Macedonian politicians it accuses of obstructing efforts to end the crisis.

Representatives of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party could not immediately be reached for comment, but the party has said it will go ahead with the election despite opposition announcements of a boycott.

Analysts and diplomats suggest however it may difficult to hold an election with only one party taking part.

Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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