23/05/2008 - D-7
1.77 million voters are being called to ballot on 1st June next to renew the 120 members of the Sobrania, the only Chamber in Parliament in early general elections which follow the dissolution of parliament on 12th April last. The political crisis that had been brewing for many weeks reached boiling point on 3rd and 4th April when Macedonia's candidature for membership of NATO was rejected.
Nineteen political parties or coalitions are running in these elections in which the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) led by the present Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is forecast to be the winner by all polls. The party launched its campaign in Ohrid, the town where the agreements putting an end to the bloody fighting between the Macedonian and Albanian communities were signed on 13th August 2001. They have been running under the banner of "Macedonia knows, the renaissance continues."
The party leads the coalition called "For a better Macedonia" that rallies 20 parties and which is putting forward 120 candidates. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Party of Serbs (DPS) led by Ivan Stoilkovic, signed a co-operation agreement which plans for the amendment of the electoral law in favour of ethnic minorities who would then have a guaranteed number of seats in Parliament and for whom a minority rights agency would be created.
The DPS announced that it had distanced itself from the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the main opposition party because of the latter's opposition to any modification to the electoral law. The VMRO-DPMNE also signed agreements with the Socialist Party (SPM led by Ljubisav Ivanov-Dzingo, the Democratic Alliance led by Pavel Trajanov, Democratic Renewal of Macedonia (DOM) led by Liljana Popovska and finally the Vlachs Party.
The ruling party's programme "2008-2012, A Hundred Steps towards Renewal", promises an improvement in Macedonian living standards and a reduction in social contributions. "The VMRO-DPMNE will not accept any kind of modification of the country's name imposed upon it by Greece," maintained the party. Athens is refusing its neighbour the right to use Macedonia as a name since this is used by one of its provinces in northern Greece, saying that the use of the name may lead Skopje to claim certain areas of the Greek province. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has said that he would like to organise a referendum on the country's name. "Stakes are too high to leave this up to politicians," he stressed on 4th May. However the party has promised not to use this issue during the electoral campaign.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has invited Macedonia to settle its dispute with Greece before 9th July when Albania and Croatia are due to sign their action plan with a view to joining the Atlantic Alliance (MAP); Skopje could then also ratify the plan. The quarrel between Greece and Macedonia has been going on for 17 years.
The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) led by Radmila Sekerinska heads the coalition "Sun, coalition for Europe". She launched her electoral campaign in the town of Stip. The partied is allied with the New Social Democratic Party (NSP) member of the present government coalition, led by Tito Petkovski as well as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Risto Penov, New Alternative led by Gjorgji Orovcanec and the Liberal Party (LPM), led by Stojan Andov. The Social Democratic Union, whose programme includes "35 projects and 213 for a European Macedonia", promises Macedonia's integration into NATO within the next six months. "If I was able to return to Brussels in 2005 and bring back the official candidature status and the guarantee that we would retain our name, I can do it again before the end of the year," maintains Radmila Sekerinska. All of the Macedonian parties support continued negotiations for the country's integration into NATO and Europe.
As it is often the case in Macedonia the electoral campaign has been riddled with violent incidents mainly between the Albanian speaking parties. There has been ransacking, machine gun fire and arson at electoral offices, shooting at political supporters and political leaders as well as bomb attacks. On 11th May last Bashkim Rustemi, an Albanian Democratic Party sympathiser (PDA-PDSh) was killed. The next day the Democratic Union for Integration leader (DUI-BDI), Alija Ahmeti was the victim of an assassination attempt in Rahvoec, west of Tetovo. The party electoral campaign leader, Izet Mexhiti, immediately accused the Albanian Democratic Party of being behind the attack. The day after that 10,000 people demonstrated in the streets of the town against the attack.
Erwan Fouéré, the EU's special representative in Macedonia recalled that these general elections were special since they are the first since the country achieved its official status as candidate to the European Union. "The authorities must investigate, identify the troublemakers and act quickly," he indicated. On 13th May last the Ambassadors of several EU Member States met the President of the Republic, Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM) to remind him that the democratic nature of the election was one of Brussels' conditions. The Head of State pointed out that because the election was early the political parties had not been able to adopt a resolution on the representation of political parties as they had done in the previous electoral campaigns. Branko Crvenkovski also addressed the population stressing that violence threatened to ruin the country's hopes of joining NATO and the EU. The Slovenian Ambassador (the country which holds the Presidency of the Council of the Union at present) appealed for calm. "Violence has no place in an electoral campaign," declared Krisztina Nagy, the spokesperson for the European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn. On 21st May the US Ambassador in Skopje, Gillian Milovanovic repeated calls for calm and for fair and democratic elections.
According to the latest poll the coalition "For a better Macedonia" is due to win the elections on 1st June next with 38% of the vote. The opposition coalition "Sun, coalition for Europe" is only due to win 18% of the vote. The Democratic Union for Integration is forecast to come third. Although the Macedonians are aware of their problems they do not seem ready to provide the opposition with their confidence in settling and improving their daily lot.
A survey undertaken by the NGO 'Institute for Democracy' credits the VMRO-DPMNE with 29.2% of the vote, 10.8% for the Democratic Union for Integration, 9.8% for the Social Democratic Union and 5.7% for the Albanian Democratic Party. 21% of the voters say they still have not decided and 19.4% say they will not go and vote.
Alija Ahmeti has said that he believes the Albanian speaking party which wins the most votes should be called to join the government. "Why are we running in these elections if the results are not respected? What interest would we have in being the leading party if we just had wait to be chosen whatever our result." Finally Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is by far the political leader in whom the greatest number of Macedonians have confidence.
The general elections will be monitored by 270 OSCE members led by Robert Barry, and 3,500 observers from the Macedonian citizens association, MOST.
The electoral campaign will officially come to an end on 30th May at midnight.