08/06/2006 - D+30
On 5th July next the Macedonians will vote to renew their Parliament. The general elections will take place on the first day on the calendar originally planned for this election since the Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski (Social Democrat Union, SDSM) had chosen to set the date between 5th July and 3rd October. The choice of 5th July made on 18th April last by the Prime Minister, accused by the opposition of manipulating the electoral calendar, was the source of discord. In all events the date selected enables the government to delay vital yet unpopular reforms; this explains the Prime Minister's choice although he still maintains that the third quarter of the year will be dedicated to launching these reforms. The ruling party enjoys the support of the people but as the polls show this is waning as the months pass. According to Ibrahim Mehmeti, director of the NGO 'Quest for Common Ground' the government committed a mistake by failing to organise early elections in December after the European Council's decision (December 2005) to grant Macedonia the status of European Union candidate country; membership is eagerly hoped for by the authorities and the Macedonian people alike. "As time passes and the date of achieving the status fades away into the past the Social Democrat Union of Macedonia is losing points", points out Ibrahim Mehmeti.
The Political System
The Sobrania, the only chamber of Parliament, comprises 120 members elected by proportional representation for a four year term in office. In general elections Macedonia is divided into six constituencies electing 20 MP's each.
Thirteen political parties are represented in the present Parliament:
- The Social Democrat Union (SDSM), the party presently in power and led by Prime Minister, Vlado Buckovski. This party is the successor of the Communist League that ruled over the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia comprises 43 MP's;
- The Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), founded in 1990 by the nationalist writer and former Prime Minister (1998-2002) Ljubco Georgievski, led for a year now by Nikola Gruevski, is the main opposition party. It lies to the right of the political scale and comprises 28 MPs;
- The Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), created in 1997 and led by Risto Penov comprises 12 MPs;
- The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI), led by Ali Ahmeti, is presently a member of the government coalition. The party which succeeded the UCK (Ustria Clirimtare Kombetäre, an acronym identical to that given to the Kosovo Liberation Army officially dismantled in 1999) led the guerrilla against the Macedonian forces in 2001 and comprises 16 MPs;
- The Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh), led by its founder (in 1995) Arben Xhaferi, comprises 7 MPs;
- The Liberal Party (LPM), created in 2000 by dissidents from the Liberal Democrat Party, led by Stojan Andov, comprises 5 MPs;
- Turkish Democrat Party (DPT) has 2 MPs;
- The Bosnian Democratic League (DLB) has 2 MPs;
- The Democratic Prosperity Party (PPD-PDP), led by Abduladi Veiseli, has 2 MPs
- The United Party of Roms (OPRM) has 1 MP;
- The Democratic Party of Serbs (DPS), led by Ivan Stoiljkovic, has 1 MP;
- The Socialist Party (SPM) has 1 MP;
- The National Democrat Party (NDP) has 1 MP.
The electoral system guarantees the representation of the minorities, notably the Albanian speaking community. Also a new electoral code was adopted in April stipulating that the Electoral Commission will now be led by an opposition member and that the influence of government representatives within this body will be reduced.
Macedonia since 2002
Since the last general elections (September 15th 2002) Macedonia has been governed by a coalition led by Vlado Buckovski, which rallies together the Social Democrat Union, the Liberal Democrat Party and the Democratic Union for Integration.
On 24th August 2004 Parliament voted in a law on the new division of the municipalities taking the number of councils down from 123 to 84. This law caused a certain amount of disapproval and was notably challenged by many Macedonians who witnessed the annexation of two Albanian speaking municipalities, Saraj and Kondovo to the capital of Skopje. With this new division the number of Albanian speaking inhabitants living in the capital has risen over the 20% mark making Albanian the second official language. The rejection of the new law by the opposition which believed that it gave too much preference to the Albanian minority led the government to organise a referendum on 7th November 2004 after an NGO, the "Macedonian World Congress", led by Todor Petrov succeeded in gathering 180,545 signatures, ie more than the 150,000 requested by article 73 of the Constitution to convene a referendum (within the six months following the start of collecting signatures). The government and Albanian speaking parties called for a boycott of this popular consultation and therefore came out victorious since the referendum was invalidated due to an insufficient participation rate. Indeed this only rose to 26.58% whilst it must be above 50% of those registered for the election to be declared valid. The acknowledgement of the country under the name of Macedonia by the USA on 4th November 2004 undoubtedly contributed to the failure of the referendum since a majority of Macedonians probably believed that a new division, which is always a potential danger to the country, might endanger the success they had just achieved internationally.
On 13th and 17th March 2005 the municipal elections that had been delayed by the referendum took place. They witnessed the victory of the Social Democrat Union which won 37 of the 84 towns (versus 21 for the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Integration (14 municipalities, versus 2 for the Albanian Democratic Party that stood alongside the Democratic Prosperity Party). Skopje, that comprises nearly a quarter of the Macedonian population elected Trifun Kostovski, an independent businessman as its leader.
The election was marked by a number of irregularities (voter intimidation, ballot stuffing etc...) notably in the regions populated by Albanians, which obliged 20 municipalities and 885 polling stations to organise a third round on 10th April 2005.
The Electoral Campaign
The Albanian speaking parties, who are still divided, are campaigning on the fact that they are supported by Albania and Kosovo which some of their sympathisers reprove since they would prefer that the parties work towards solving Macedonia's problems rather than travel to Albania and Kosovo to make declarations on the stability of the Balkans. "The solution to our problems if there is one can only be found here in Macedonia and not in Albania or Kosovo", declares Ibrahim Mehmeti. On 28th May last two Albanian parties, the Democratic Union for Integration and the Democratic Prosperity Party signed a pre-coalition declaration with the general elections in mind. The document promotes the future integration of Macedonia into the EU. Both parties have made a commitment to taking part in the electoral procedure in a just and non-violent manner.
Three new political parties have recently emerged. The New Social Democrat Party ((NSDP), a leftwing party created after the scission of the Social Democrat Union and the Liberal Democrat Party; the Party for Democratic Renewal (DOM), formed by dissidents from the Liberal Democrat Party; and finally the Party for a European Future (PEI) created by intellectuals and businessmen and which defines itself as a party lying in the centre of the political scale working for all citizens, independent of their origins. The improvement in the electoral procedure in Macedonia, the economic development of the most underdeveloped regions in the country, rapid Euro-Atlantic integration, the reduction of unemployment and the development of foreign investment feature amongst this party's objectives which is chaired by Fijat Canovski; he established the lists of candidates amongst which there are no personalities who have already been involved in politics.
On 18th May last the leaders of eight political parties (the Social Democrat Union, the Democratic Union for Integration, the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity, the Albanian Democratic Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Revolutionary Organisation-People's Party (VMRO-NP), the Liberal Party (LP), the New Social Democrat Party) signed a declaration to guarantee just and democratic elections condemning all acts of violence, intimidation and non-democratic activities and to denounce the latter as contrary to the country's interests.
The President of the Republic, Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM), declared that "the quality of the elections is more important than victory". "To have reached a wide consensus on all of these decisions – the declaration of commitment signed by the political parties – is encouraging and sends out a positive sign to Macedonian citizens and to the international community; this is a good thing. But this is just the start and in order to really talk of success we must fulfil our mission to the end. I have no illusions in believing that this declaration alone can guarantee that the goal will be achieved but I should like to believe that each and every one of us signed the text in a totally responsible manner, with political will and sincerity", stressed the Head of State.
The ambassador the European Union for Macedonia, Erwan Fouere, warned politicians that it was vital for the future of the country for the elections to be held in a fair and democratic manner."I am sure that the country has the ability to organise fair and democratic elections. You have all the institutions necessary to do so, all you need now is political will. The parties must relinquish their former ways of thinking and acting. It would be damaging if irregularities occurred because it is the population that has to pay the price", he declared. "The first thing you must do is to ensure that an election is held in perfect harmony with the criteria set by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)", said Karl Gucht, Belgian Foreign Minister and president-in-office of the OSCE. "The adoption last March of a new electoral code is encouraging. But we all know that it is not just a question of establishing instruments that work but that it is rather a matter of political will", he maintained. "The main reason why the country must organise free and fair elections is not only because of the European Union and NATO but because Macedonian citizens deserve it", added Carol Pais, OSCE ambassador in Skopje.
Macedonia and Europe
In December 2005 Macedonia achieved EU candidate country status. "It is not a gift but acknowledgement of the role played by Macedonia in the stabilisation of the Balkans, of its progress on the road to democracy and a multiethnic, multicultural State", said European Parliament President Josep Borrell. "You welcomed over 360,000 refugees who fled ethnic cleansing undertaken by neighbouring States and the devotion you showed in applying the Ohrid Agreements gave you the right be a candidate", he added.
Independent since 1991, Macedonia is the only federated republic not to have taken part in the fighting that plunged former Yugoslavia into bloodshed over the last few years. Membership of the EU is one of the priorities of all the political parties; it is also desired by all Macedonians. According to a poll undertaken in December 2005, if there were to be a referendum 92% of the population would vote in favour of the country joining the EU. Also 57.2% of those interviewed say that the country's entry into the EU is one of greatest importance for them. But the obstacles to be overcome are still numerous and the road will be long. We should remember that candidate status does not automatically lead to the launch of membership negotiations, since these are determined by the country's ability to continue reforms and also by the European Union's capacity to welcome new members. In December last Denmark, France and the Netherlands did express their reticence about granting Macedonia with candidate status. "The enlargement of the EU is our objective and no one can prevent the Balkan countries from having a European perspective", said however Javier Solana, High Representative for the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Macedonia's negotiations with the EU are not due to start before the beginning of 2008 even though Prime Minister Buckovski recently declared that he was "optimistic" and believed "that negotiations would start in 2007". "Matters do not simply depend on us. We have a list of priorities that we are going to complete. At the end of the list features just and democratic general elections", he added. The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn stressed that Macedonia was not ready to start negotiations adding that the general elections comprised a test for the country's democratic maturity likewise the state of the economy and even telecommunications considered a priority within the partnership with the EU.
In addition to this Macedonia must imperatively complete the launch of reforms set out in the Ohrid Agreements (13th August 2001) signed between the country's Macedonian and Albanian communities to end conflict. These agreements focussed on four points: the acknowledgement of Albanian (mother tongue to about a quarter of the Macedonian population) as an official language in zones where the Albanian speaking population represents at least 20% of the inhabitants) as well as the admission of Albanian into Parliament likewise into higher education and the legislation (to be written in both Albanian and Macedonian); the increase in local powers of the Albanian minority and a 23% increase in the number of Albanian speaking policemen in the forces of order; the amendment of the Constitution with a view to acknowledging greater rights for the Albanian population; the disarmament of the UCK guerrilla force and the amnesty of rebels who did not commit crimes liable for prosecution on the part of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.
To date the Albanian population is still under represented within the institutions, the reform of the police force is incomplete and the draft law on language, which is extremely unpopular amongst the Macedonians, has been postponed. Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski has said in answer to requests on the part of Javier Solana that the law on the police force will be voted on in October. Albanians represent 25.17% of the country's population which also comprises 66.6% Macedonians, 4% Turkish speakers, 2.2% Roms and 2.1% of Serbs (figures drawn from the most recent census in 2002).
Memories of the last local elections in 2005 have led to fears over the successful running of the general election. "The problems experienced during the municipal elections last year must be overcome", warned Josep Borrell, who also said, "we shall all be watching Macedonia and the way it undertakes its general elections in a fair and democratic manner according to the OSCE criteria". Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's Secretary General also warned the country's authorities that they must ensure the transparency of the upcoming general elections. Since November 2001 Macedonia is a potential member of NATO. At the Istanbul Summit in June 2004, NATO acknowledged that the country fulfilled the necessary requirements to become a fully fledged member of the organisation. Observers are expecting Macedonia to be accepted into NATO at the next summit in Riga in November this year or in 2007 at the latest.
Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, says that after the general elections Macedonia will develop negotiations with Greece on the name of the country which it also said did not mean that Macedonia was prepared to change its name. Greece has challenged the country's right to call itself Macedonia believing that this name belongs to its own national history since one of its provinces bears the same name. We should remember that neighbouring Bulgaria also has a region called Macedonia and that Sofa was however one of the first countries to acknowledge the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonia's name is an important issue but which is blocking its final entry into the United Nations; it has the support of the USA which acknowledged the country as Macedonia on 4th November 2004 – a move which roused the anger of Athens. The country was admitted to the UN in April 1993 under the provisional name of the former Federal Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The ethnic question, the still undecided status of Kosovo and the weakness of the economy (nearly one third of the working population is unemployed) are the most important questions facing Macedonia today. The most recent polls provide the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) with a slight lead over the Social Democrat Union (SDSM). With regard to the Albanian parties the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) is still the most popular party and is due to win twice as many votes as the Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh)
Results of the General Election - 15th September 2002
Participation : 73.5%
Source Macedonian Information Agency (MIA)