02/05/2008 - Analysis
The rejection of Macedonia's candidature by NATO on 3rd and 4th April last when NATO invited Croatia and Albania to join it and asked Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia to move on from a Partnership for Peace to enhanced dialogue, led to the dissolution of the Macedonian Parliament and the organisation of early general elections. A political crisis had been fomenting in the country over the last few weeks.
Greece vetoed Macedonia's entry to NATO since it refuses its neighbour the right to use the name of Macedonia which is also the name of a Greek province in the north of the country. Greece says that the use of this name may lead Skopje to lay claim to certain areas of the Greek province. The dispute between Greece and Macedonia has been going on for 17 years. Athens wants its neighbour to keep its provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). "Macedonia fulfils all the conditions to integrate NATO but because of Greece's irresponsible behaviour it was not invited to join the Atlantic Alliance," declared Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE).
The political crisis
On 13th March last the Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh) led by Menduh Thaci decided to leave the government coalition in protest, amongst other things, against the government's refusal to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo. The Albanian party accused the authorities of not having implemented legislation on the Albanian language, of having failed to increase the number of Albanian speakers within the civil service and last of all, to settle, as promised four legal cases with regard to war crimes which the UCK (Ustria Clirimtare Kombetäre) are accused of; it undertook a guerrilla war in 2001 against Macedonian forces, which managed to take over the North and North West of the country. The fighting lasted 7 months during which time 800,000 people were forced into exile before the four main political parties, members of the national union government, (VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, PDA-PDSh and PPD-PDP), signed an agreement on 13th May 2001 putting an end to the violence between the two communities.
"The first reason for our decision is the non-acknowledgement of Kosovo. The issue of Kosovo has been concluded, we must be careful and not spoil the most important, historical process in Albanian history," stressed Menduh Thaci last March. "Secondly we are expecting an invitation to join NATO. We do not want to miss this historic opportunity and abandon our rights in this land," he added. The PDA-PDSh finally joined the government coalition ten days later saying that its return would be governed by the establishment of work groups on the issue of the status of the Albanian language in Macedonia, to the continued implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, the establishment of a victim status for the 2001 conflict and the law on the use of flags by minorities during certain ceremonies. It said that it would support the government until the NATO summit on 3rd and 4th April.
On 8th April after the NATO summit another Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI), led by Alija Ahmeti, suggested the dissolution of Parliament due to "institutional inadequacy". The disagreements within the government over continuing reforms as well as over the rights granted to the Albanian minority grew as the weeks passed, with the Prime Minister accusing the opposition parties of impeding Parliament's work amongst other things. On 12th April Parliament approved its dissolution, 70 votes in favour (a minimum of 61 votes were vital). VMRO-DPMNE, PDA-PDSh and BUI-DBI MPs approved the proposal whilst the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not take part in the vote. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski therefore decided to convene early general elections for June 1st. According to electoral law the elections have to be organised in the 60 days following the dissolution of Parliament. This will be the first early general election since the country's independence on 8th September 1991.
The political system
The Parliament (Sobranie), which is mono-cameral, comprises 120 members elected by proportional representation (Hondt method) for a four year period. During the general elections the country is divided into 6 constituencies which each elect 20 MPs. The electoral system guarantees the representation of the minorities (Albanian, Turk, Serb, Rom, etc.) as it does that of women since the electoral lists have to include at least 30% of the opposite sex. The political parties, party coalitions and groups with at least 500 members are allowed to run in the general elections.
17 political parties are represented in Parliament at present:
- Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which lies to the right of the political scale, founded in 1990 by former Prime Minister (1998-2002) Ljubco Georgievski and led since 2005 by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. The main government party: 38 MPs;
- Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the leading opposition party led by Radmila Sekerinska since November 2006: 23 MPs;
- the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), founded in 1997 and led by Risto Penov: 5 MPs;
- Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh), member of the government coalition, created in 1995 by Arben Xhaferi and led by Menduh Thaci: 11 MPs;
- Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI), led by Alija Ahmeti, succeeded the UCK (officially dismantled in 1999): 14 MPs;
- the Liberal Party of Macedonia (LPM), created in 1999, led by Stojan Andov: 2 MPs;
- Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD-PDP), member of the government coalition, led by Abduladi Veiseli: 3 MPs;
- Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–People's Party (VMRO-NP): 6 MPs;
- the New Social Democratic Party (NSP), created after the split from the Social Democratic Union, member of the government coalition led by Tito Petkovski: 7 MPs;
- the Party for a European Future (PEI), created by intellectuals and businessmen; defines itself as centrist movement: 1 seat;
- Socialist Party of Macedonia (SPM) led by Ljubisav Ivanov-Dzingo: 3 MPs;
- Democratic Union (DS): 1 seat;
- Union of Roms of Macedonia (SRM): 1 MP;
- Democratic Party of Turks (DPT): 1 MP;
- United Party of Romas in Macedonia (OPRM): 1 MP;
- Democratic Party of Serbs (DPS), led by Ivan Stoilkovic: 1 seat;
- Democratic Renewal of Macedonia (DOM): 1 MP.
The electoral campaign
Early general elections are necessary for the government to be able to bind the majority together and to enable Parliament to function. The PDA-PDSh has threatened to leave the government coalition on several occasions. Moreover relations between Tito Petkovski, leader of the NSP, partner of the government coalition, and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski have been tense over the last few weeks. "There are many reasons for these early elections but the main one is the inadequacy of Parliament and its inability to fulfil its promises. Macedonia needs a new majority that will be able to undertake the necessary reforms for its Euro-Atlantic integration," declared the Head of Government. "There is no better solution for the country than these elections because they will provide us with a new, more efficient Parliament which is able to undertake reforms," confirmed Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki (VMRO-DPMNE). "It is time for the intimidation of Macedonian citizens by those who only defend their parties and their own political positions to cease. Early elections are normal and take place in all democracies – there is no problem in organising them," said Nikola Gruevski.
Radmila Sekerinska, leader of the SDSM, has accused the VMRO-DPMNE of avoiding its responsibilities. "The country was not invited to join NATO. No date has been set for negotiations with the European Union. The economy is still weak and the population is not living better whereas the improvement of living standards was one of the VMRO-DPMNE's electoral promises," she says adding, "Nikola Gruevski is a coward, he avoids his responsibilities just when he should be taking vital decisions." The SDSM, which repeats that the early general elections will impede the country's efforts to join NATO, said that it wanted to set up a government that would bring the country out of the crisis it is experiencing at present.
President of the Republic, Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM), also protested against the early elections. "The initiative of organising early elections will have disastrous effects on the State. If they take place this will mean there will be no serious debate on the issue of our name and we shall lose all of our chances of belonging to NATO and of starting accession negotiations with the EU – this will mean we shall not be invited to join NATO nor have a date for the opening of accession negotiations with the EU in 2008. It is not the time to organise elections but rather to solve the problem caused by Macedonia's name. We shall have the time for elections whereas the chance of negotiating may be lost forever," he stressed.
However the Prime Minister constantly repeats: "Our priorities remain integration into NATO and the Euro-Atlantic entity. Early elections will enable the acceleration of these processes. The VMRO-DPMNE, the government and I, just as intellectuals and experts will continue to fight our Macedonia's accession to NATO and the European Union and to do as much as possible for the country and national interests. "
At just one month before the elections buying power and high unemployment rates are the main concerns on the part of the electorate. The socio-economic situation is still weak, foreign investments are lower than in other neighbouring Balkan countries and the infrastructures are in great need of renovation. Also heavy taxation, restrictive bureaucracies continue to discourage entrepreneurs.
The most recent poll undertaken on 24th and 25th April by the Centre for Research and Policy Making reveals that the VMRO-DPMNE is due to win 26% of the vote in the election on June 1st versus 12% for its main rival, the SDSM, the Social Democratic Union (DUI-BDI) is due to win 10.7% and the Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh) 7%.
13% of the electorate say they are undecided and 27.7% say they will not vote on June 1st. Also in answer to the question "which political leader do you respect most?" put by Ifimes mid-April, 44.20% of those interviewed say Nikola Gruevski, and 17.60% quote Radmila Sekerinska. The electoral campaign for the elections will officially start on 11th May next.
Reminder of the General Elections of 5th July in Macedonia
Turn out: 55.98%
Source: Macedonian Parliament