28/06/2006 - D-7
The official electoral campaign for the general elections on July 5th next started on 14th June. It will last twenty days and will end on 3rd July. 1,741,449 voters are being called to the urns in 2,973 of the country's polling stations to vote in the 120 members of the Sobrania, the only chamber in Parliament. 3,514 Macedonians (soldiers, handicapped or those in hospital) will be allowed to vote on 4th July. 2,620 candidates representing 25 political parties and 6 coalitions are running in these general elections.
The two main parties in the political arena, the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Social Democrat Union (SDSM), have both emphasised the economic situation. Both are presenting programmes of liberal inspiration that aim to attract a maximum of foreign investments.
The Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity led by Nikola Gruevski, say they are in favour of a major decrease in taxes; the VMRO-DPMNE intends to make Macedonia the State with the lowest tax rate in Europe. If they win these elections this is a project that will however be submitted to the judgement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The opposition party is also leading a campaign to step up the fight against corruption and promises to do everything possible to prevent young Macedonians from leaving to live abroad. "The future changes will benefit all Macedonian citizens and no only the supporters of the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity. The country's renaissance will start on 6th July next", maintained VMRO-DPMNE leader, Nikola Gruevski. The party recently announced that it was going to merge with four other small formations born of the divisions within the VMRO-DPMNE over the last few years. "Nikola Gruevski's desire to merge with these small parties emanates from his need to present his party as the only legitimate VMRO", analyses Gjorgji Ivanov, a teacher of political science at the University of Skopje, referring notably to the recent creation of the Revolutionary Organisation-People's Party (VMRO-NP) by the very same person who founded the VMRO-DPMNE, former Prime Minister (1998-2002) Ljubco Georgievski.
On 20th June last in Gostivar Vlado Buckovski, Social Democrat Union leader and Prime Minister announced that his party if it won would dedicate 100 million euros to SME's. After the economy it is education that the present government coalition has chosen to highlight in these general elections. Finally the country's integration into the EU and NATO also features amongst the Social Democrat Union's priorities – the same applies incidentally to all Macedonian political parties.
Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh), having observed that ethnic conflicts still have not been resolved and expressing his scepticism of the integration policy with regard to the country's minorities where in its opinion both communities have different interests, is campaigning for the establishment of separate institutions for the Macedonians and for the Albanian speaking population. He has also promised to create 60,000 new jobs, to reform the budget in favour of the eastern part of the country where most of the Albanian speaking population lives and to create an economic free zone in the region extending from Tetovo to Gostivar. The PDA-PDSh is also promising to create 10,000 posts for Albanian speakers in the civil service and to increase salaries by 28% in the education and healthcare sectors.
The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) led by Ali Ahmeti, which is a member of the present government coalition, has based its campaign on the economy, social cohesion and equal opportunities. The fight against corruption and the country's integration into the EU and NATO also comprise priorities on the part of the Albanian speaking party. With the general elections on 5th July in mind the Democratic Union for Integration has formed a coalition with the Democratic Bosnian League (DLB) led by Rafet Muminovic and the Democratic Prosperity Party (PPD-PDP) led by Abduladi Veiseli. The coalition that is putting candidates forward in five constituencies has chosen the following as its campaign slogan "We dare, we act, you judge". "We are going to win because we have two sister parties running along side us as well as other communities such as the Turks, the Roms and the Macedonians; we are not afraid to speak the language of all communities", said Ali Ahmeti. "The Democratic Union for Integration has not done much but has however enabled the official acknowledgement of the University of Tetovo (a town on the borders with Kosovo), the establishment of the Skenderbeg memorial in the capital of Skopje and the right to celebrate major events in the history of the Albanian speaking population – all of these things have led our country to being able to integrate into the European community", he added.
When talking of the post-election period MP Rafiz Haliti (DUI-BDI) did not rule out the possibility of the Democratic Union for Integration creating a government coalition with the Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for National Unity if the latter won. The day before this Antonio Milosevski campaign director of VMRO-DPMNE, announced that his party would not repeat the mistake it made in 1991 when it accepted the offer of forming a coalition with the Democratic Prosperity Party.
The majority party in the present government coalition, the Social Democrat Union is leading a campaign to the rhythm of "Forwards Macedonia!" which according to the party's leader, Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, means that the party is ready to take on another term in office as Head of State and that the creation of a European Macedonia has started. The Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity launched its campaign under the banner of "Macedonia has the strength to overcome crucial tests". The New Social Democrat Party (NSDP), a leftwing party created after the scission between the Social Democrat Union and the Liberal Democrat Party is led by Tito Ptekovski and started its campaign in Kumanovo under the slogan of "Stronger and more honest". The party wants to fight for greater economic prosperity. To the tune of "Stay Human" the Party for Democratic Renewal (DOM) led by Liljana Popovska and created by dissidents of the Liberal Democrat Party chose to start its campaign in Struga "a town symbolic of democracy and civic resistance". Finally the Democratic Union for Integration is leading its campaign under the banner of "We can do it" whilst the Albanian Democratic Party which launched its campaign in Tetovo chose "We believe".
The theme of corruption is the heart of the electoral campaign. The Macedonian branch of the association Transparency International, the main worldwide NGO dedicated to the fight against corruption, announced that nearly 90% of the activities of the political parties were financed by anonymous individuals in Macedonia. "The system allows no space to undertake any real reform and in fine the destruction of the country's institutions", observes economy professor Ljubomir Kekenovski. He believes that only a prosperous and open economy will enable progress in the fight against corruption. "It is true that the level of corruption in Macedonia is high. The fight against this scourge has to be a national priority. In addition to this it is clear that corruption is present above all amongst the men in power. We must therefore, as an imperative, strengthen the legal means available to the State", declared the President of the Republic, Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM) in an interview he gave to the daily newspaper, Dnenik on 17th June last.
Incidents (grenade explosions, destruction of buildings and violence against political adversaries) have been on the increase over the last few days bringing militants or supporters of the Albanian Democratic Party into conflict with those close to the Democratic Union for Integration. "Recent incidents comprise a poor start for the Macedonian electoral campaign. We are really concerned about what is happening and we should like to recall that we are not only here to monitor the election on the day of voting but also the electoral procedure as a whole", declared Andrea Angeli, EU assignment spokesperson in Macedonia.
The EU and NATO have been repeating to the Macedonian authorities how important the harmonious running of the general elections on 5th July will be for the country's possible integration into NATO as well as the European institutions along with the respect of transparency and democracy during the election. "I should like to point out that these elections comprise a crucial test for Macedonia and represent a major stage in its path towards Europe. A clean campaign that respects international standards is a primary condition for the election's success", maintained EU Ambassador in Macedonia, Erwan Fouere. "Personally I am convinced that citizens and political parties have the will and ability to ensure that the general elections will be honest and free. Each citizen can make it so by turning out to vote on 5th July next", he added.
For his part NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recalled that the international community would monitor the general elections closely. "I am convinced that if Macedonia continues on this route and succeeds in ensuring a transparent and free election and continues its reforms the allies will provide it with a positive sign a the next NATO summit in Riga in November next", he maintained. Finally the US Ambassador in Macedonia, Gillian Milovanovic, warned that "the way in which the leaders are chosen during the next general elections will be of significant importance. If they are chosen fraudulently it will have an impact on the commitments made by Macedonia with its view of joining NATO and the EU".
"The interest shown by the international community with regard to the organisation of honest and democratic elections in Macedonia comprises a very good indicator and means that we must not repeat errors of the past", answered Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski. "We have a chance of organising honest and democratic elections and of showing Europe that Macedonia can respect European standards", confirmed Eleonora Petrova Mitevska, Ambassador for Macedonia at the Council of Europe. Macedonia has also just increased the prison sentences imposed on those committing infringements during the electoral procedure. The penal code, amended by Parliament two days before the official launch of the campaign now plans for more severe punishment for troublemakers. Hence anyone committing a minor electoral infraction risks up to three years in prison whilst before the danger only comprised financial sanctions. Around 250 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will be present to monitor the elections throughout the country. The European organisation will also send thirteen experts and 18 observers to ensure that the electoral campaign occurs peacefully.
"We have to change the image of the Albanians of Macedonia and show that they are not a destabilising factor", declared the founder and leader of the Albanian Democratic Party, Arben Xhaferi, on 20th June during an electoral meeting in Bogovinje. "The Albanian Democratic Party is in favour of democratic elections. I am calling on militants and supporters not to fall into the traps held out for us by our political adversaries", he added. The party's spokesperson MP Menduh Thaci, who also features on the blacklist of persona non grata in the USA, accused the Democratic Union for Integration of being responsible for the incidents during the campaign saying it fears defeat in the elections on 5th July. For his part Ali Ahmeti, chairman of the Democratic Union for Integration requested the Albanian Democratic Party to "ask its supporters to keep calm since these incidents were bad for all Macedonian citizens".
The Orthodox Church has also asked its followers to "ensure that the elections are undertaken peacefully and that they must be free and democratic so that the country will be finally led to a better future (...) These elections are a critical test for our country's democratic institutions". Jakup Selimovski speaking for the Religious Islamic Community (IVZ) recalled that it was of the utmost importance for the country's Muslims that these elections took place in a peaceful manner. The organisation said that it would try to convince Muslims to ensure they voted as individuals rather than as representatives of a community. "The community vote is not justified, one person must not vote for the others", stressed Jakup Selimovski.
According to the latest poll undertaken by the Institute for Democracy, Solidarity and Citizenship, 17.6% of the electorate were about to vote for the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity versus 13.2% for the Social Democrat Union. The most recent poll undertaken by the International Republican Institute on the contrary credits the Social Democrat Union with 18% of the vote versus 16% for the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity. The polls should therefore be judged with caution. "The electorate is almost equally divided in terms of its support for the main political parties", says Natasa Gaber, analyst at the Institute for Political, Sociological and Legal Research. This situation can be explained by the various divisions that have taken place over the last few years amongst the main political parties which have led to the creation of several parties such as the New Social Democrat Party led by Tito Petkovski and the Revolutionary Party-People's Party led by Ljubco Georgievski. These new parties are bound to disturb the traditional electorate of the two main parties in the political arena during the elections on 5th July. "Neither Tito Petkovski nor Ljubco Georgievski are beginners in politics. Some of those who vote for the Social Democrat Union and the Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for National Unity will surely joint them", maintains Sonja Kramarska, a journalist for the daily Utrinski Vesnik. "The comfortable, traditional position held by the Social Democrat Union and the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity will be disturbed for the first time in these elections", added Aneta Jovevska, analyst at the Institute for Political, Sociological and Legal Research.