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General elections in Macedonia 15th September 2002

General elections in Macedonia 15th September 2002

15/09/2002 - Analysis

The general elections that are to take place on 15th September in Macedonia comprise the last stage in the application of the peace agreement signed by the main Macedonian parties on 13th August 2001 at Lake Ohrid. With the aim of settling the political situation in Macedonia the EU and NATO have requested that the elections, originally planned to take place in November, should be held two months before the end of the present government's mandate. Eight hundred European observers will follow the progress of the fourth parliamentary elections in Macedonia's history.

A brief reminder of events in 2001

For Macedonia 2001 was the year of violent conflict between government forces in Skopje and the Albanian guerrilla from the National Liberation Army (whose acronym UCK - Ustria Clirimtare Kombetäre is identical to that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, officially dismembered in 1999) and when the latter managed to take control of the North and North West of the country. After seven months of fighting that had led to the exile of 800,000 people, the four main Macedonian and Albanian speaking parties - who had been part of a national union government since June (the VMRO – Democratic Party for National Macedonian Union and the SDSM – Macedonian Social Democrat Party for the Macedonian side and the PDA – Albanian Democrat Party and the PPD, the Party for Democratic Prosperity for the Albanians) - signed an agreement at Lake Ohrid putting an end to the fighting between the two communities. This took place in the presence of Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and George Robertson, Secretary General of NATO. The agreement focussed on four main points:

- Acknowledgement of the Albanian language (mother tongue of around one quarter of the Macedonian population) as the official language in zones where the Albanian speaking population represents at least 20% of the population. This includes permission to use Albanian in Parliament as well as in higher education and in the writing of Macedonian law.

- The strengthening of the powers of local Albanian minorities and the increase of the number of Albanian speaking policemen by 23% (there were only 3% in August 2001)

- The amendment of the Constitution with a view to recognising the wider rights of the Albanian speaking population.

- The disarming of the UCK guerrilla and the amnesty of the rebels who did not commit crimes that are likely to come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for ex-Yugoslavia.

The UCK, who were not at the negotiating table committed itself to NATO to respect these resolutions and was officially dissolved after the signing of the agreement. In accordance with this NATO set up a month long taskforce entitled « Essential Harvest » on 22nd August 2001. This included the presence of 3,500 NATO soldiers who were responsible for the collection of the guerrilla arms. In September a thousand international civil observers were sent into Macedonia within the framework of a new taskforce called « Red Fox ». Since then this has been extended three times and will come to an end on 26th October 2002.

The European Union says that it is prepared to take over from the transatlantic organisation in Macedonia this autumn but its participation depends on the drawing up of a logistics co-operation agreement with NATO that has been vetoed by the Greeks for over a year. The latter are dissatisfied with the implicit guarantees granted to Turkey on the EU's non-intervention in Greek-Turkish conflicts in the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. The intervention of a European taskforce in Macedonia would comprise the first ever common military European operation.

On 16th November 2001 the Constitution was modified. Fifteen new amendments were added to the 1991 text stipulating, amongst other things, the acknowledgement of Albanian as the country's second official language, access by the Albanian minority to positions in the civil service, the establishment of veto mechanisms when Parliament or local councils vote in cultural laws, the election of an inter-ethnic commission comprising seven Macedonians, seven Albanian speakers and five members of the country's other communities (Turkish, Rom, Serb, Bosnian and Valak), the guarantee of an equitable representation of the country's ethnic composition within the national security council and equal rights between all minorities and the majority of "Macedonian people". On 24th January the Macedonian Parliament adopted legislation that granted more rights to the Albanian minority (strengthening of local powers) and on 7th March an amnesty law was voted. In addition to this mixed patrols comprising Macedonians and Albanian speakers were sent out to villages where conflict had occurred. Finally the government took back control of sensitive zones so that the general elections could take place..

The Macedonian political system

The first ever free, democratic general elections were held in November and December 1990. Seventeen political parties participated, presenting 1,095 candidates providing the source for the election of the 120 members of the Sobranie, the Macedonian Parliament. Until 1998, when the last general elections were held, MP's were elected for 4 years by a majority vote in one round; this concerned 85 of them, the other 35 were elected by proportional representation. In 2002 the vote will be entirely proportional; the country will be divided into six constituencies each electing 20 MP's.

Eight political groups are represented in the present Parliament:

- Democratic Party for the National Unity of Macedonia (VMRO-DPMNE), with a wide majority and placed to the right on the political scale.,

- Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the country's main opposition party

- Democratic Alternative founded in April 1998 by Vasil Tupurkovski, an ally of the VMRO-DPMNE,

- Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), the largest Albanian speaking party led by Abdurahman Haliti,

- Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), an ally of the VMRO-DPMNE,

- Albanian Democratic Party (PDA), led by Arben Dzhaferi,

- Macedonian Socialist Party and the Rom Union each with one MP only

On 15th September 3,060 candidates from thirty political groups, seven coalitions and five citizens' associations will present themselves to the voters. Within the perspective of the general elections the Macedonian Parliament was officially dissolved on 19th July. « The vote is of major importance for the democratic development of our country, the elections will confirm that (...) the citizens of Macedonia are determined and able to construct a better future for our country» said Boris Trajkovski the Macedonian President on 15th August. Everyone in Macedonia is aware that these general elections are a crucial test for the peace and democracy of this small country in the Balkans.

Summary of the general elections on 18 October, 1st and 15 November 1998:

Participation : 72,9%

Source Le Courrier des pays de l'Est, Europe centrale et orientale 2000-2001, Vers l'intégration européenne et régionale, n° 1016, Paris, La Documentation Française, 2001
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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