The state for the people: The Left in Parliament

Redzep Ismail of the Presidium of the Levica (The Left) talks about why his party opposes the Prespa Agreement, the change of his country’s name to North Macedonia and the party’s performance in the recent elections

September 13, 2020 by Muhammed Shabeer
Interview -Levica - N. Macedonia
Candidates from Levica, including its president Dr. Dimitar Apasiev, contested from all the six districts with the slogan: ‘The state for the people – Left in Parliament!.

In the North Macedonian (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) parliamentary elections held on July 15, left-wing party Levica achieved a breakthrough by winning two seats and securing 4.1% of the votes. Levica (The Left) is a socialist, anti-imperialist party founded in November 2015. Its entry into the parliament marks a strong return of the left in the country. Peoples Dispatch talks to Redzep Ismail, representing the Presidium of the Levica, regarding the party’s campaigns and policies towards the advancement of the left.

Levica has been one of the most principled opponents of the Prespa Agreement which changed the name of the country to North Macedonia and paved the way for its entry into the European Union (EU).

Peoples Dispatch (PD): What was Levica’s main electoral agenda according to their manifesto prior to the parliamentary polls and what were the expectations regarding the results?

Redzep Ismail (RI): We campaigned under the slogan “The State for the People”, which contains both a diagnosis of the root causes of our socio-economic maladies, as well as a political strategy for overcoming them in the interest of the working class. In the past 30 years, the state, including all its institutions, has been captured and exploited by a small group of corrupt business-politicians, whose sole interest has been the pursuit of profit. Throughout this period, these corrupt elites have played the role of loyal pets to the western international community. They have obediently implemented neoliberal socio-economic policies, which are aimed at pushing our country into the Western imperialist military complex and commodifying our resources and our people within the globalized neoliberal capitalist economy. As a result, over the past 30 years, these “elites” endorsed by their western capitalist counterparts have exploited our state’s institutions, our country’s property, our resources, our history and legacy, and our people. 

Our political strategy encapsulated by the slogan “The State for The People” aims to return the state’s sovereignty back to the hands of the people. We fight for a radical overturn of the current status quo and the re-establishment of a state whose institutions function under ideological precepts that oppose the neoliberal capitalist consensus. Drawing inspiration and insights from past and current socialist and communist models, we aim to draw out and implement a radical developmental strategy. This will mobilize our potential as a state towards building a developed and just society for the working class people.

Admittedly, before the start of the campaign, our expectations were in line with the now official result of two Member of Parliament (MP) seats. However, our expectations changed during the campaign. From the outset of the electoral campaign, we were positively surprised by the way in which our political campaign resonated among the people. During the campaign, we felt a huge wave of support arriving literally from all corners of our country (both rural and urban). It was particularly the youth which responded very strongly to our call. During the campaign, the number of activists working on planned activities doubled. Many joined our campaign activities on the streets and then remained in contact and volunteered to contribute to the campaign. This situation meant that the electoral expectations rose during the campaign and we expected a minimum of 4 MP seats, despite the very unfavorable electoral model for a small and anti-ethnic party such as ours. This turned out to be a very realistic expectation as we managed to secure almost 40,000 votes and tripled our electoral support from the past elections. 

Our key electoral commitments which stood out during the campaign included our anti-NATO position and the opposition to our country’s name change, which was forced through in a criminal way under the dictates of foreign powers and NATO. The changing of the country’s name in accordance with the Prespa Agreement with Greece was against the wishes of the Macedonian people as the referendum on the name change organized in 2018 had failed. In spite of this, the change was forced through the parliament in an illegal and highly problematic way, where votes in support of the amendments were exchanged for impunity for abuse of office. 

We are now the only parliamentary party which opposes the country’s membership in NATO on anti-imperialist grounds. One of the main themes of our campaign was the revision of the privatization process which was implemented illegally during the transition period, resulting in the transfer of public property and wealth into the hands of a small political elite. 

Instead, we advocate for a socialist developmental economic model, the expansion of the welfare state and public services, and propose extensive reforms of the tax system (introduction of progressive taxation, luxury tax etc.) to tackle the rising inequality in the country, which is currently the highest in Europe. In the long term, our program also stipulates the nationalization of the main companies in the energy, pharma, healthcare and telecommunications sectors.

In our electoral program, we also called for a new constitution which is different from the current one that entrenches ethnic divisions. These divisions are then perpetuated by the state’s institutions and in the long run serve to divide the working class along ethnic lines and prevent its mobilization.

PD: Can you comment on the battle for power between the coalition led by prime minister Zoran Zaev and the opposition in the country? What is your opinion about the policies of the previous government under Zaev between 2017 to January 2020?

RI: We have to say that there is no real battle going on, especially not a battle of ideas, between the main opposition and the government. This has to do with the influence of foreign powers, especially the USA. In view of the small economic space and capacity of the Macedonian economy, what this boils down to are the business interests of two competing business clans which have their own political parties. 

The previous government (2017-2020) was formed by the political party SDSM, which did not win the elections in 2016. The government was installed with the unique objective to change the country’s name in order to pave the path to NATO membership. Certainly, the reward for this was the distribution of state contracts and the pumping of state/public money to firms which are either directly owned by members of government or their close affiliates.   

PD: Levica has raised serious objections about the counting of votes and several other issues regarding the polls? How do you plan to challenge such irregularities?

RI: Definitely, these elections were the most irregular, unfair, and biased elections in the parliamentary history of the Republic of Macedonia. They included not only irregularities on election day, such as vote buying, group votes, destruction of ballots and different types of pressure on the voters, but also media obstructions in contravention to electoral regulations. The big political parties began their electoral campaigns long before the official start date. The governing party spent its entire mandate in an electoral campaign. 

Another significant obstruction was the breakdown of the electronic system and the website of the State Electoral Commission. The website was down for almost an entire night (brought down by an alleged cyber attack), which disabled the display of results in real time. Preliminary official results were published almost 22 hours after the closing of the ballots. We are strongly convinced that we have been robbed of several MPs as a result of such irregularities. 

Finally, the electoral model itself determines to a large extent how the popular vote translates into MP seats. The country is divided into six electoral districts, each electing 20 MPs through the D’hondt model of counting votes and converting them to parliamentary seats. According to this model, all votes do not carry equal weight, and it particularly disadvantages new or smaller parties like ours. For example, Levica with nearly 40,000 votes obtained two MP seats, while the ASA coalition with double the votes (nearly 80,000) has six times the MPs – 12 in total.

PD: Why has Levica opposed the Prespa Agreement? What are the major problems of this agreement?

RI: The Prespa Agreement with Greece was ratified internally in spite of a failed referendum. This hugely problematic and deeply criminal internal parliamentary process resulted in four constitutional changes. 

The referendum on the name change posed the question: “Are you in favor of EU and NATO membership by accepting the Agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?” The referendum failed with only 36.89% of the population turning out to vote following a successful campaign by the informal movement, #Бојкотирам (I’m Boycotting).

A two-third majority in parliament was then required to pass the four constitutional amendments. This was achieved by providing selective amnesty to eight MPs from the VMRO-DPMNE, who had been accused of violations involving abuse of office. They were provided amnesty in exchange for their support in passing the constitutional changes.

Levica is the only parliamentary political party which opposes the Prespa Agreement and calls for its annulment, not only because of the criminal and illegal way in which it was forced on the country, but also due to its contravening the principle of self-determination. Levica also calls for the withdrawal of the country’s membership to NATO, arguing that according to the Macedonian constitution, membership in military alliances is conditional on the successful passing of a referendum – a criteria which has not been satisfied.

And finally, we oppose the agreement because it represents an illegal foreign intervention into our domestic affairs and violates the sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia. It is an agreement based on Greek chauvinism and nationalism and contradicts international legal conventions. The International Court of Justice had ruled in favor of Macedonia in a name-dispute case in 2011. 

The Prespa Agreement also contravenes the principle of national self-determination and places us in a subservient position. It subjects the Macedonian nation and its identity to (historical) revisionism. The agreement only benefits the western international community, which aims to make Macedonia a member of the NATO military alliance. This was made possible by the name change. 

Among other things, the agreement absolves Greece of the genocide it conducted against the Macedonian population under the monarcho-fascist government during the Greek Civil War in 1948. 

We oppose the agreement because it was passed in spite of the fact that it did not receive the approval of the people. 

PD: What are your views on the desire for EU membership and what has been its impact on the common people in the country?

RI: This obsession for EU membership is socially damaging because the Macedonian public – be it the academia, the media or the broader public – has turned into an absolute and uncritical recipient of EU policies in the country and the broader region. This situation is politically unhealthy for the country because the political elites use their alleged support for EU membership as an excuse for unprincipled, corrupt and criminal acts