While the SDSM – DUI coalition is preparing for an in-person census in April, the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party is about to begin gathering signatures from citizens to strike down the controversial move and to hold a digital census.

Macedonia hasn’t had a census since 2002, in the aftermath of the civil war, and the main take-away from this hotly contested operation was to place the share of the Albanian population at a little over 25 percent – safely above the 20 percent outlined in the Ohrid peace treaty as the margin where a community gets preferential voting rights in the Parliament and at municipal level.

High emigration rates among both Macedonians and especially Albanians have raised doubts whether an actual census will repeat the same result. The 2011 census was stopped mid-stream after numerous reports that emigrants are being counted as residents in the majority Albanian parts of the country, using Skype or plain fraud, in order to increase the Albanian share of population and to keep what are believed to be tens of thousands of fictional voters on the election rolls. But now SDSM, kept in power by the mercy of its Albanian coalition partners, agreed to hold a new census in which from the start emigrants will be allowed to count as residents, and all safety checks proposed by VMRO are being dismissed.

Macedonia has not held a realistic census for 40 years. Zoran Zaev is about to hold a politically pre-determined census that will only satisfy his coalition needs. SDSM is pushing the country toward a forged census and the results will be used to dupe our institutions and our citizens, VMRO said in a press release today.

The opposition party is proposing a new digital census – a process that has been used in various forms since 2011. It includes comparing the data collected from various institutions to determine the actual number of residents in the country. It would match tax and banking statements with public healthcare records and other forms of measurable economic or political activitiy, as well as records from border crossings to determine who actually lives in Macedonia and who is a citizen, but living abroad.

SDSM, on the other hand, insists that holding an in-person census will be the key to economic revival. Zaev even threatened the country that, unless the census takes place, we can’t expect to see any new investments in the coming year – a promise he has often made over the past four years but hasn’t delivered on.