admin1 – March 3, 2006 – 10:15am

The coming parliamentary election will be a decisive test if Macedonia will move ahead faster or move further away from its integration with the EU and NATO, said President Branko Crvenkovski and the Ambassadors of the US, EU and OSCE, Gillian Milovanovic, Erwan Fouere and Carlos Pais, to Macedonia at their Thursday meeting with representatives of the media.

"What kind of elections we have is more important than who wins. The media are not responsible for conducting fair and democratic elections, but I appeal that the issue of election regularity is invariably kept in the spotlight," President Crvenkovski said.

According to EU Ambassador Erwan Fouere, if Macedonia fails to hold fair and democratic elections, its journey to the EU and NATO will be longer.

"The next opportunity will be in 2009. A single flaw will be too much. The chance has to be taken," Mr. Fouere said.

In the view of the representative of the media, it is the political parties that should bear the greatest responsibility for democratic elections. They recommend that the international factors focus on the political parties, their leaderships and the training of their members in conducting fair elections.

"The key is with them. However, a great deal of the Macedonian media is 'occupied' bearing in mind that the owners of the most influential media are also leaders of political parties. On their program we see that those leaders are at the same time editors-in-chief of the program," said Zoran Ivanov, director of the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA).

The editor of Radio Kanal 77, Stole Naumov, called on the international community "to pull the political leaders by their ears and teach them to hold fair and democratic elections". He stressed that the elections will be by international standards provided that the authorities take action as energetically as they do whenever reporters are in question.

OSCE Ambassador Carlos Pais underlined that the greatest election problems in Macedonia were intimidation, group voting and stuffing of ballot boxes.

"It depends on the reporters if the media would be caught in the trap of manipulation or would keep a sober and just approach to reporting free of sensationalism or bias. Citizens are the most important in these elections," he said.

US Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic said the media should caution the political parties against the consequences of the opinion "that to win is more important than to have democratic elections".