North Macedonia

Transitional or Hybrid Regime
46
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 45.83 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.75 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
45 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Electoral Process rating improved from 4.00 to 4.25 to reflect the well-organized presidential election, which featured fewer irregularities than previous elections.
  • Independent Media rating improved from 3.25 to 3.50 to reflect the gradual growth of objective and credible reporting.
  • As a result, North Macedonia’s Democracy Score improved from 3.68 to 3.75.

header2 Executive Summary

By Jovan Bliznakovski

North Macedonia registered a degree of democratic progress over the course of 2019 despite growing public dissatisfaction with the governing coalition, which had pledged to restore rule of law following revelations from the 2015 “Wiretapping Affair” and subsequent political crisis.1 The country has charted a positive course since 2017, when the right-wing populist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE) was ousted from power and the new government led by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) initiated several promising legislative and policy moves. However, developments in 2018 and 2019 have shown that the government and new ruling parties are not yet up to the task of reforming the system.

Recent moves for reform have been limited and often incomplete, with political parties putting narrow party interests first, while the investigation of the “Wiretapping Affair” progresses only incrementally. North Macedonia’s overall democracy score is now at a similar level as in 2016, when the “Wiretapping Affair” was first reflected in the scores, though it is still far from where it had been more than a decade ago. Much work remains for the country to make a decisive step towards restoring rule of law and liberal democracy.

The major event of the year was the January adoption of constitutional amendments stipulated in the Prespa Agreement that North Macedonia struck with neighboring Greece in 2018. The name of the country was thus changed from “Republic of Macedonia” to “Republic of North Macedonia,” paving the way for opening the accession process with NATO, which was pending since the Greek veto in 2008. The required two-thirds majority was ensured through the participation of some VMRO–DPMNE members of Parliament (MPs) who had been acquitted of prior charges (in the 2017 parliamentary riots) through a controversial amnesty law. This obvious trade-off in impunity for political support cast doubt over the ability of the government and parliamentary majority to reintroduce rule-of-law principles. Despite the name-change agreement with Greece, the European Union (EU) failed to extend an invitation for launching accession negotiations in October, even though the lack of such an agreement had been the primary reason for blocking the talks in the past.

Presidential elections took place in April and May and led to the election of Stevo Pendarovski, the ruling-coalition candidate. The elections featured fewer irregularities than in previous polls. Simultaneously with the presidential elections, local elections for three vacant mayoral seats also took place; in all three races, the incumbent parties won.

The year 2019 was much less eventful in terms of civic protests compared to previous years. But, notably, the first-ever Pride Parade in the country was held in June, proceeding with full support from the authorities and without any disruptions. The climate for cooperation between the government and the civil sector has improved in comparison to the period of VMRO–DPMNE rule, and civil society organizations (CSOs) accelerated their advocacy during the year. However, organizations remain dependent on foreign funding, threatening the sustainability of the sector that played such an important role in demanding accountability for the “Wiretapping Affair.”

Likewise, media independence and quality of reporting have improved compared to the period of VMRO–DPMNE rule. Yet, journalists are still frequent targets of pressure from political centers of power, and many work under difficult conditions, for low wages, and without social security benefits.

The fight against high-profile corruption remains insufficient, despite some positive moves during the year. Parliament adopted key anticorruption legislation during 2019 and, most importantly, appointed a new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (DKSK). Although the new DKSK is more active than its predecessor, the impression prevails that political elites enjoy impunity for corruptive deeds.

One of the heaviest disappointments of the year came in July when the figure tasked to clear the “Wiretapping Affair”—Katica Janeva, head of the Special Public Prosecutors’ Office (SJO)—was implicated in the most prominent corruption scandal of the year, dubbed the “Extortion Affair.” The Public Prosecutors’ Office (JO) found that Janeva had accepted bribes in return for promises to intervene in the investigation against businessman Orce Kamchev, a leading suspect in the SJO’s “Empire” case. The affair effectively ended the work of the SJO, which transferred its cases to the JO and ceased operations, though with some SJO prosecutors continuing to lead their cases at the JO. Later, in October, the JO began probing the involvement of several state and SDSM officials in the “Extortion Affair.”

Despite positive public reaction to the JO’s handling of the “Extortion Affair,” North Macedonia’s judicial system continues its struggle to develop a track record in cleaning up the “Wiretapping Affair” and other high-level cases of corruption. Many of these are stuck in the labyrinth of courts, or move very slowly towards resolution. Additionally, several convicts have escaped to other countries, the most notable case being former prime minister Nikola Gruevski from the VMRO–DPMNE, who fled the country and asked for political asylum in Hungary in 2018. The courts, however, handed down heavy jail sentences in 2019 for organizers of the 2017 parliamentary riots, though some of these participants escaped conviction through the highly controversial amnesty law adopted at the end of 2018.

The EU accession fiasco in October prompted leaders of the main political parties to agree on holding snap elections in 2020. The elections are expected to be heavily contested and will likely again bring to the fore the long-standing political polarization between SDSM and VMRO–DPMNE. Both parties declaratively support liberal-democratic reforms and EU integration, but they seem unable to fully adhere to liberal-democratic principles, with VMRO–DPMNE opposing any policy or legislative moves that could finally resolve the “Wiretapping Affair.”

More broadly, North Macedonia’s future democratic trajectory will depend on whether political actors, and society in general, can address the country’s significant institutional issues, such as judicial independence and division of power within the political system, insufficient efforts to combat corruption, and partisan capture of state institutions.

  • 1. The “Wiretapping Affair” refers to a major political scandal in 2015 that revealed widespread abuse of power (including the illegal wiretapping of, as claimed by the then opposition SDSM, 20,000 citizens), corruption and electoral fraud by VMRO-DPMNE. The affair contributed to the fall of Nikola Gruevski’s government in 2017 and to a change of power. Currently, many leading VMRO-DPMNE officials are under investigation or on trial because of the revelations from the “Wiretapping Affair.”
National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.253 7.007
  • Despite the 2017 change in government, North Macedonia’s institutions of national governance have largely failed to capitalize on this opening to undergo deep reforms. The SDSM-led government has proved unequal to the task it declaratively endorses; meanwhile, opposition from the former ruling VMRO–DPMNE continues to complicate the adoption of key liberal-democratic reforms.
  • The major event of 2019 took place in January, when Parliament adopted constitutional amendments stipulated in the agreement with Greece, and thus changed the name of the country from “Republic of Macedonia” to “Republic of North Macedonia.”1 This achievement prompted the opening of the NATO accession process in early February.2
  • However, the process for adopting the constitutional amendments overshadowed the government’s commitment to reinstate democracy and the rule of law. The required two-thirds majority for passage was achieved with the support of eight VMRO–DPMNE members of Parliament (MPs),3 three of whom had received amnesty in the trial over the 2017 parliamentary riots.4 The other five MPs had also been implicated in other cases, and a claim quickly surfaced that their votes were ensured with guarantees of impunity.
  • While the country succeeded in securing a formal invitation to join NATO, the second promise offered to citizens regarding the name change—starting accession talks with the European Union—was blocked at the EU Council in October.5 Failing to deliver this key advantage, the SDSM-led government found itself in a difficult position, and as a result, the major political parties agreed in October to hold snap elections in 2020.6
  • In May, the fraught period of cohabitation between the SDSM-led government and the executive ended when the SDSM candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, won the presidential election, following two successive mandates by Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO–DPMNE).7 Former president Ivanov had refused to promulgate key laws adopted by Parliament (such as the law on the use of non-majority languages); in fact, after the name change, he had stopped promulgating laws altogether.8 President Pendarovski assumed a more active role in the public sphere and openly supported the reform agenda, the country’s EU integration, and the Prespa Agreement with Greece.
  • Yet, the dysfunction of Parliament continued in 2019. The opposition VMRO–DPMNE MPs continued their boycotts, albeit less frequently than in the previous year, but agreements on legislation that required a two-thirds majority were impossible to reach.9 In addition, Parliament failed to promptly appoint heads or members of several important institutions10—it took more than two years to appoint the Chief State Auditor,11 seven months to appoint the head of the Directorate for Personal Data Protection,12 and new members of the commission for anti-discrimination were not appointed by year’s end despite the posts being vacant since August.13
  • Public trust in North Macedonia’s main representative body also remained low. According to an IDSCS survey in May, a large majority of respondents believe that MPs always defend their own personal interests (78 percent) or their party’s interests (72 percent).14 A majority also think that the government controls Parliament (63 percent) rather than the other way around (35 percent).15 As in past years, MPs had difficulty acting independently of their political parties.
  • The EU-endorsed “Urgent Reform Priorities” from 2015 are still far from being fully implemented, and exemplify the country’s lack of institutional capacity. According to Network 23, only 7 out of 43 measures were fully implemented as of 2019, with work on 10 not even initiated by the end of the year.16 The government managed to reform access to electronic communications by the secret service and abolished the controversial lustration law, but it had largely failed to create conditions for the independence of regulatory and oversight bodies. Reforms related to the judiciary, anticorruption, depoliticization of the public administration, elections, and the media sphere remained unfulfilled.
  • One of the most pronounced problems the country faces is the politicization of public-sector hiring.17 By employing loyal cadres, incumbents can guarantee reelection and capture state institutions (as demonstrated by the VMRO–DPMNE’s rule from 2006 to 2017). Transparency International Macedonia found that competitive employment opportunities continued to be tailored to fit the characteristics of particular applicants.18 Additionally, the country’s public administration is overstaffed, and in September, the government submitted a proposal to tackle the issue by transferring public-sector employees to the private sector.19
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.254 7.007
  • The April/May presidential elections took place without the major irregularities that had characterized previous polls. Still, several long-term deficiencies remained unaddressed, such as inaccuracies in the voter registry and weak oversight bodies to monitor campaign finances.
  • The presidential elections were conducted in two rounds (April 21 and May 5), leading to a win for the ruling SDSM and DUI coalition candidate, Stevo Pendarovski1—with Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, backed by the VMRO–DPMNE,2 as runner-up. For the first time, a single presidential candidate was endorsed by the two most popular political parties in the Macedonian and Albanian ethnic camps. And it was also the first time that a female presidential candidate reached the second round. The third contestant, Blerim Reka, was backed by two ethnic-Albanian parties, the Alliance for Albanians and Besa Movement.3 Indicating a major positive trend, all three electoral campaigns attempted to reach voters beyond ethnic barriers.4
  • In the first round, Pendarovski and Davkova were virtually tied, with 42.81 and 42.25 percent, respectively (a difference of 4,000 votes),5 while Reka won 10.6 percent of the vote.6 Turnout was at 42 percent. In the second round, with a slightly higher turnout of 47 percent, Pendarovski won the contest with 51.65 percent of votes.7
  • Election day saw fewer irregularities in comparison to previous years, though family voting, proxy voting, and vote buying were observed by OSCE/ODIHR at some sites.8 A total of 14 complaints were lodged by Davkova in the first round, with election results annulled at seven polling stations; 11 complaints in the second round resulted in annulments in four polling stations, which did not affect the election results, and none of the decisions were appealed.9 OSCE/ODIHR assessed the complaints and appeals process as conducted in a timely manner but lacking in full transparency.10
  • In a significant development, OSCE/ODIHR noted improvements in electoral conduct by the country’s political parties. All showed a decrease in abuse of public resources for electoral gain, and “state officials appeared to be careful to maintain a clear distinction between their official and political activities, and to avoid using state resources in the campaign.”11 In past election cycles, abuse of public resources had been widespread despite established legal safeguards.
  • The State Electoral Commission (DIK) had been operating with an extraordinary mandate since July 2018, when it was first established to organize the referendum on the agreement with Greece. Its mandate was extended two years in November 2018 (whereas the standard DIK mandate is five years).12 During the presidential elections, the work of the DIK faced fewer criticisms and controversy than in previous election cycles. OSCE/ODIHR concluded that DIK operated collegially and fulfilled legal deadlines in general.13
  • A long-standing proposal on electoral reform gained ground during the year. As proposed, the country’s current six constituencies would be unified into one, and the system of closed lists would be replaced with a system of open lists. In September, MPs from smaller political parties formed an advocacy group supporting the adoption of one countrywide electoral constituency, a move considered to be more beneficial for them.14 In November, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM) also expressed public support for the change.15
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.755 7.007
  • North Macedonia’s civil society is vibrant and encompasses a total of 10,171 civil society organizations (CSOs) and foundations (with 1,645 full-time employees)1 working on the full spectrum of areas relevant for civic life. The climate for civic actions markedly improved following the ouster of the VMRO–DPMNE from government in 2017. Still, the civic sector remains significantly dependent on foreign funding. In its 2019 report, the European Commission concluded that the state could improve financial sustainability for these organizations with tax harmonization and more predictable public budgeting.2
  • In this improved climate, CSOs accelerated their advocacy activities to influence policymaking during the year. Yet, this was more the result of individual successes than any systematic approach pursued by state institutions.3 For example, the “CSOs Platform to Fight Corruption” found that in December, out of 120 bills and amendments, the government failed to include 94 in the mandatory consultation process of the National Electronic Regulations Registry (ENER).4
  • The year 2019 was much more peaceful in terms of protest activity than in previous years. Nationalist groups held small-scale demonstrations on the occasion of changing the constitution following the agreement with Greece,5 as well as during Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s visit in April.6 Protests were also held in January and February against the high levels of pollution in the capital Skopje and across the country.7
  • The first-ever Pride Parade in the country took place in June, without any disruptions and with warm welcome from the authorities and the public.8 The government’s positive image, however, was marred in August when Prime Minister Zaev called one of the suspects in the “Extortion Affair” a “faggot,” an anti-gay slur that was strongly condemned by civil society organizations.9
  • The Law on Prevention from Discrimination was finally adopted in March, following a months-long blockade in Parliament and protests by more than a hundred CSOs calling for urgent adoption of the law.10 The legislation was drafted with participation from key civil society stakeholders and, for the first time, recognized sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination.11 The law also expanded the powers of the state commission tasked with discrimination, but Parliament failed to appoint commissioners to the body, prompting additional protests in November.12
  • A new “Strategy on Cooperation with the Civil Sector 2018–2020”13 was adopted by the government in late 2018, and the government published a report in March 2019 on the state of implementation.14 The Strategy includes improvements to the legal and tax frameworks as well as to the system of state financing, increased cooperation with the civic sector, and encourages contributing to social service provision. Further development of the relations between the state and civil society will depend on the successful implementation of these envisaged measures.
  • The Council on cooperation between the government and the civic sector started working in April 2018 and held 18 sessions in 2019.15 The Council consists of representatives from civil society associations and state institutions. Yet, a survey of 223 CSOs by the MCIC found that this body lacks trust among NGOs. On a scale of 1 to 10, half of those surveyed gave marks in the range of 1 to 3 on the question of whether the Council acts upon proposals from organizations that are not already part of the Council.16
  • In February, the Ministry of Culture was forced to reverse some of its decisions related to the distribution of funds for cultural events after critics cited political bias in the funding process. The ministry had omitted several important events and festivals but included others with no previous track record.17
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.504 7.007
  • During 2019, the incidence of pressure and political influence continued to decrease in North Macedonia’s media sphere as the objectivity and credibility of reporting increased, compared to the period under VMRO–DPMNE rule. These improvements were visible during the campaigns for the April/May presidential elections. In contrast to previous election cycles, most of the privately owned electronic media as well as the public broadcaster refrained from reporting with a biased political undertone, as OSCE/ODIHR monitors concluded.1 IREX’s Media Sustainability Index also registered improvements across all categories and particularly in the field of freedom of speech in comparison to 2018.2 Still, many journalists and media workers continue to face the precarious situation of low wages and working without basic social security and benefits.
  • The media continue to lack trust among the general public. According to the 2019 Balkan Barometer survey, only 25 percent of respondents agree with the statement that the media are independent of political influence.3 In addition, 52 percent think that the media are unable to scrutinize the government effectively,4 and 75 percent believe that they are affected by corruption.5
  • Verbal threats and physical attacks towards journalists remained prominent during the year. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia demanded action against businessman Zoran Azmanov, who had issued verbal threats to the editor of 1TV, Aco Kabranov, in an attempt to prevent publication of journalists’ findings.6 In January, Kanal 5 journalist Mirjana Mircevska-Jovanović was physically attacked while covering a religious event by security staff hired by the Macedonian Orthodox Church.7 In February, the owner of 1TV, Bojan Jovanovski, threatened Makfax journalist Meri Jordanovska via a Facebook post, a move that was publicly condemned by the state Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services.8 In April, reporters and camera operators from TV21 were harassed by local government employees attempting to prevent a news report on the state of infrastructure in the municipality of Arachinovo.9
  • The arrest and detention of Jovanovski in the “Extortion Affair” (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”) prompted the September closing of 1TV, which had been active in the country since March 2018.10 Jovanovski had played the role of an informal owner of the channel, while his father, Mile Jovanovski, was a formal co-owner of 1TV.
  • The presence of fake news continued to pose problems in 2019. Misinformation and disinformation increased significantly during 2017 in support of the VMRO–DPMNE’s bid to prevent the democratic alternation of power, and in 2018 during the campaign for the referendum on the country’s name change.11 As a target of fake news itself, the government drafted the first-ever action plan on combating misinformation during the year.12
  • In positive news, the Supreme Court invalidated the 2013 sentence of the journalist Tomislav Kezharovski, who had been jailed for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a 2008 article. The case was sent for a retrial but exceeded the statute of limitations, and all charges were dropped in September. Kezharovski publicly expressed dissatisfaction and demanded to be put on trial in order to prove his innocence. Press freedom organizations had widely condemned the case as politically motivated.13
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 4.004 7.007
  • Local democratic governance in North Macedonia saw no significant developments during the year. Local self-government units remain financially weak and unable to steer local development programs. The country’s decentralization initiated under the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement is still incomplete, and some local governments continue to lack fiscal independence. According to the regional ACTION SEE network, North Macedonia’s municipalities are the least open, accessible, and transparent in the Western Balkans (data from 2019 referring to 2018).1 Local governments were dominated by the SDSM in 2019; the ruling party held 57 mayoral positions out of the total 81 municipalities, with its coalition partner DUI holding 10 seats and the VMRO–DPMNE holding 5 seats.
  • Three by-elections took place simultaneously with the presidential elections, resulting in victories for the incumbents. In the municipality of Novo Selo, SDSM mayor Boro Stojchev submitted his resignation in 2018 due to his trial and conviction in a cigarette smuggling case.2 In the elections, Stojchev was replaced by Nikola Andonov (SDSM).3 SDSM also won in the municipality of Ohrid, where Konstantin Georgievski became mayor following the sudden death of his colleague, Jovan Stojanovski.4 In Debar, the DUI defeated the Alliance for Albanians to regain the post with its candidate, Hekuran Duka, replacing previous mayor Ruzhdi Lata, who died in 2018.5
  • A change of power took place in Gostivar in September when a new majority uniting the Alliance for Albanians and the VMRO–DPMNE seized control at the expense of the SDSM–DUI coalition.6 As a result, an Alliance for Albanians member became president of the council, replacing a DUI member.
  • Problems in the quality of local democratic governance are perhaps best illustrated by the case of Ohrid, which risked being reclassified by UNESCO as an “endangered” heritage site in 2019. Years of neglect of the natural and cultural heritage of the city, as well as illegal construction and pollution, had prompted UNESCO to issue a “last warning” and to propose a series of recommendations to be fulfilled with its status reassessed in 2020.7 It remains to be seen whether this development will compel adequate attention from both the local and national government to care for the country’s most prominent tourist destination.
  • 1. Danilovska, Dance and Nada Naumovska, “Proposals for the improvement of the current state, Openness of the local self-government institutions in the region and in the Republic of North Macedonia”, Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society and ACTION SEE, July 2019, p. 4, https://metamorphosis.org.mk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/lokalna_vlast_e….
  • 2. “ОСУДЕНИОТ ГРАДОНАЧАЛНИК НА НОВО СЕЛО ПОДНЕСЕ НЕОТПОВИКЛИВА ОСТАВКА” [“The convicted mayor of Novo Selo submitted a resignation”], Sakam da kazam, 5 October 2018, https://sdk.mk/index.php/makedonija/osudeniot-gradonachalnik-na-novo-se….
  • 3. “Резултати – Предвремени избори за Градоначалник на општините Охрид и Ново Село 2019

    (Втор круг)” [“Results – Early elections for Mayors in the municipalities Ohrid and Novo Selo (Second round)”], State Electoral Commission, https://rezultati.sec.mk/mk-MK/5/r/all/55.

  • 4. “Резултати – Предвремени избори за Градоначалник на општините Охрид и Ново Село 2019

    (Втор круг)” [“Results – Early elections for Mayors in the municipalities Ohrid and Novo Selo (Second round)”], State Electoral Commission, https://rezultati.sec.mk/mk-MK/5/r/all/56.

  • 5. “Резултати – Предвремени избори за Градоначалник на општините Охрид, Ново Село и Дебар 2019 (Прв круг)” [“Results – Early Elections for Mayors of the municipalities Ohrid, Novo Selo and Debar 2019 (First round”], https://rezultati-prvkrug.sec.mk/mk-MK/5/r/all/23.
  • 6. “Алијансата за Албанците ќе раководи со Советот на општина Гостивар” [“The Alliance for the Albanians will head the Council of the Municipality of Gostivar”], Alsat-M, 16 September 2019, https://alsat-m.tv/mk/%d0%b0%d0%bb%d0%b8%d1%98%d0%b0%d0%bd%d1%81%d0%b0%….
  • 7. Cvetanoski, Ilcho, “Ohrid and its lake, a UNESCO heritage in danger”, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa, 24 September 2019, https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/North-Macedonia/Ohrid-and-its-….
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 3.253 7.007
  • North Macedonia’s judicial system remained subject to undue political influence in 2019, as illustrated by the lack of substantive progress in clearing the “Wiretapping Affair,” the country’s biggest political scandal linked to the previous VMRO–DPMNE government. Some of the affair’s main figures—accused of abuse of power, corruption, mass surveillance, and other wrongdoing—have either fled authorities (such as former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, hiding in Hungary)1 or have had their indictments stuck in lengthy court procedures (as with former counterintelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov).2 The institution tasked with investigating the affair, the Special Public Prosecutors’ Office (SJO), ceased operations during the year due to its own scandal, the “Extortion Affair.” In addition, Parliament’s decision in late 2018 to grant amnesty to some of those implicated in the April 2017 parliamentary riots further decreased public trust in the justice system.
  • In March, the Skopje Criminal Court handed down final rulings related to the parliamentary riots.3 A total of 16 people were convicted, including former interior minister Mitko Chavkov (VMRO–DPMNE), who received 18 years in jail for “terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order.” The court session commenced with more than 30 suspects in August 2018, but a third were acquitted by the controversial amnesty law in December 2018. Nearly all of those convicted had received sentences of 10 years or more in jail.
  • The “Extortion Affair” broke out in July, involving TV personality Bojan Jovanovski (aka Boki 13) and his accomplice Zoran Mileski, who were accused of extorting money from the businessman Orce Kamchev in exchange for helping to avoid jail sentences in a case overseen by SJO head Katica Janeva. The Public Prosecutors’ Office (JO) acted quickly and placed Jovanovski, Mileski, as well as Janeva, who allegedly took a bribe to intervene in the case, in custody.4 The investigation was broadened in October to include more suspects who allegedly participated in different extortion deals, including several SDSM officials and, most notably, parliamentary vice-president Frosina Remenski.5
  • Following the “Extortion Affair,” the SJO handed all of its cases over to the JO, and effectively ceased operations in September.6 The JO decided not to reassign the cases to new prosecutors7—a welcome move, since replacing the SJO prosecutors would have restarted the court proceedings as well.
  • A review of the implementation of the government’s judicial reform strategy by the Blueprint Group for Judicial Reform concluded that the adoption of legal amendments had been generally transparent and inclusive but that time frames were not respected.8 Several laws that had been blocked by former president Ivanov were reinstated by President Pendarovski, who promulgated the laws on courts, on administrative disputes, and on misdemeanors, while Parliament voted for the second time on the Law on the Judicial Council and adopted the Law on Free Legal Aid in May.9
  • Despite being high on the reform agenda, there was no agreement between the ruling and opposition parties on the new Law on Public Prosecution in 2019.10 Moves to adopt the law accelerated at the end of the year, but the VMRO–DPMNE continued to oppose the use of wiretaps in court proceedings, as well as the involvement of former SJO prosecutors in the “Wiretapping Affair.”11 Similarly, public debate on the vetting of judges and prosecutors was reinvigorated near the end of the year,12 but it remained unclear what such a process would look like and whether it could garner support in Parliament.13
  • Two high-profile corruption cases involving former prime ministers reached the legally prescribed statute of limitations during the year, further contributing to the image of political impunity in the country: The trials against former PM Gruevski (VMRO–DPMNE, 2006–16), in the SJO case “Trajectory,” and former PM Vlado Buchkovski (SDSM, 2004–06), accused of illegal procurement while serving as Minister of Defense in 2001, ended without court decisions in October14 and November,15 respectively.
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 3.253 7.007
  • Unable yet to mount a sufficient fight against corruption, North Macedonia continued to lack high-profile convictions in 2019. In response, Parliament adopted new legislation on corruption and conflict of interest1 and on public procurement2 in January, and appointed a new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (DKSK) in February.3 These moves aimed to boost the fight against corruption in the country.
  • The new composition of the DKSK is more dynamic than its predecessor, but the fight against high-level corruption remained at a standstill during the year. The commission suffered from understaffing and lack of funds to implement a comprehensive fight against corruption.4 At the same time, judicial institutions appear to have been acting slowly and inconclusively on cases of high-profile corruption.
  • In April, the DKSK submitted two misdemeanor charges against then-president Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO–DPMNE) for promoting individuals in the army after the scheduling of elections (prohibited by the Electoral Code).5 Ivanov was acquitted of all charges in September when the Administrative Court found that the commission had failed to abide by formal procedural rules.6
  • In May, the DKSK opened proceedings against three high-profile state officials, PM Zaev, vice-PM Kocho Angjushev, and Minster of Information Society and Administration Damjan Manchevski, who were accused of corruption and nepotism. The cases were ongoing at year’s end.7 In October, investigative journalists requested information on assets held by Zaev and Angjushev, but the commission refused to provide it on the grounds of protecting private data.8 Another high-profile case in front of the commission during the year involved General Secretary of the government Dragi Rashkovski, who was accused of influencing the outcome of a public procurement.9
  • In November, the DKSK established that there was no conflict of interest in the case of opposition VMRO–DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickovski related to state concessions in 2014 for the construction of hydropower plants.10 Also in November, the commission adopted an initiative demanding that PM Zaev initiate proceedings against vice-PM Angjushev for conflict of interest in a government decision to reduce taxes on lithium batteries.11 In late December, the government replied that there were no grounds for the proceedings against Angjushev.12 It remains to be seen how other actors in the anticorruption system will proceed following the DKSK’s actions.
  • In the middle of the “Extortion Affair,” the government established a high-level anticorruption team of ministers to support a coordinated approach in the fight against organized crime and corruption.13 The team had not registered any formal achievements by the end of the year.

Author: Jovan Bliznakovski is an assistant in political science at the Institute for Sociological, Political, and Juridical Research (ISPJR), Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje. He holds a PhD in political science from the University of Milan, Italy. In 2014–16, he served as program director of the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” Skopje (IDSCS), the leading Macedonian policy think tank.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    63 100 partly free