Constitutional court rules citizens living abroad have right to elect representatives.
By Goran Trajkov for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 28/12/12
The Macedonian constitutional court has upheld the provision establishing three seats in parliament elected by the diaspora. [AFP]
Macedonia's constitutional court has declined to strike down a provision that allows the diaspora to elect three representatives in parliament, marking a victory for an increasingly important segment of voters.
The 2011 election was the first time that seats in the parliament were created to represent Macedonian citizens living abroad -- one seat each for Europe/Africa, North/South America and Australia/Asia.
Opponents argued the diaspora had limited access to voting locations. Of the approximately 500,000 Macedonian citizens living abroad, there were 7,213 registered voters and 4,088 who cast votes. Voters were required to come to one of Macedonia's 55 embassies or consulates.
The diaspora is a rising economic force in Macedonia, with remittances climbing from 557 million euros in 2003 to 1.4 billion euros in 2011, according to the National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia.
"I am very glad that the constitutional court once more confirmed the legality and legitimacy of the mandate of the diaspora members," Pavle Sazdov, the representative for North and South America, told SETimes.
Milorad Miki Dodevski, the representative for Australia/Asia, said the decision confirms that the diaspora has the "constitutional and moral right to vote."
In 2011, pro-democracy NGO Citizens Association MOST recommended revising the rules to include voting by mail or via the internet. MOST Executive Director Darko Aleksov told SETimes he does not challenge the diaspora's right to vote, but said the constitutional court should implement similar recommendations by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR to make voting more accessible.
"The current system is inefficient, requiring large sums of money from the budget to be unnecessarily spent," Aleksov said.
Sazdov acknowledged that the election process among the diaspora was "difficult."
"We should take a look at the opportunity for our citizens to vote by mail or via internet," Sazdov said. "It will be a great opportunity for them because there are different circumstances why they cannot come or cannot be registered as voters."
But, Sazdov added, "The biggest injustice done to our fellow Macedonians in the diaspora was the fact that no previous government ever dedicated themselves to include our diaspora in the socio-political life in Macedonia."