Interim Interior Minister Pance Toskovski angrily rebuffed comments from the interim Prime Minister Talat Xhaferi, who rejected Toskovski’s proposal that the passports with the name Republic of Macedonia are used during the elections in April and in May. The outgoing DUI – SDSM Government created a disastrous mess when it declared the passports which are still valid but have the name Republic of Macedonia as invalid, leaving an estimated 600,000 citizens unable to travel as the Interior Ministry printing press is unable to keep with the demand.

Voting in the crucial general and presidential elections requires a valid document – an ID card or a passport. The ID cards remain valid even if they are without the imposed name “North Macedonia”. But Toskovski warned about several groups amounting to about 100,000 citizens who may be unable to vote. These include people whose identity cards expired recently or expire in the coming months, and who have been unable to get a new one because of the huge mess in the joint passports and ID issuing centers. This also includes citizens who are coming of age these months, and who have been legally unable to obtain an ID card before they turn 18 but have a valid passport.

For this reason, while the passports are declared invalid for international use, Toskovski demanded that a law is passed allowing citizens to vote with a passport which hasn’t expired, even if it doesn’t have the imposed name “North Macedonia”. Xhaferi today insisted that there are still 50 days until the elections, which, he said, is enough time for all citizens to get a new ID card. While the printing press for the ID cards is not overbooked, it’s still difficult to pick up the already printed ID cards because of the chaos – not to mention that booking a new appointment is practically impossible in this time frame.

If Talat Xhaferi is so optimistic, as is the Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, let them come to a passport office. I will gladly secure them a booth where they can help us take photographs of the citizens and accept their applications, Toskovski said.

The severity of the crisis, the apparently deliberate refusal of the previous Interior Minister to order sufficient blank passports, the overall handling of the process, and Xhaferi’s statement today have raised serious concerns that the DUI – SDSM coalition, which is facing a major defeat in the elections, may be hoping to depress voter turnout. SDSM formally agreed that the Parliament should adopt a law making the passports valid for domestic use, saying it will not violate the imposed Prespa Treaty with Greece, but Xhaferi’s move indicates that SDSM are secretly working with their coalition partner to block this proposal.