22/03/2009 - Analysis - 1st round
On 9th January the president of the Sobranie (Macedonian Parliament) Trajko Veljanoski announced that the first round of the presidential election would take place in Macedonia on 22nd March next. On the same day local elections, which are organised every four years in the country, will also be taking place, notably in Skopje, Ohrid and Kumanovo.
The presidential election in which the present head of State Branko Crvenkovski (Social Democratic Union, SDSM) has chosen not to run – he might take over the leadership of the main opposition party at the end of his mandate – is particularly open-ended. If no candidate is elected in the first round the Macedonians will be called to ballot again on 5th April.
The Presidential Function
The President of the Macedonian Republic is elected for five years and his term in office is renewable only once. His powers are relatively limited and the position is essentially honorary. The Head of State is also the head of the armed forces and presides over the Security Council of the Republic comprising the Prime Minister, the President of the Sobranie, ministers responsible for security related areas, external relations and defence as well as three people appointed by the President of the Republic.
According to electoral law the presidential election has to be organised 60 days before the end of the present Head of State's mandate. To run for the supreme office a person has to be at least forty years old and collate the signatures of at 10,000 voters or the support of at least 30 MPs. For the first time this year candidates (just like the ones in the local elections) will have to certify that they have never worked with the country's former secret services.
On 9th January last Parliament voted to reduce the minimum turn out rate for the presidential election to be declared valid – 40% of those registered. Previously it was established at 50%.
To date 7 people are running for the position of Head of State:
- Gjorgji Ivanov, professor of law at the University of Skopje, the candidate put forward by the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the
present Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's party;
- Ljubomir Frckoski, professor of international law at the university of Skopje, former Interior and Foreign Affairs Minister, supported by the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), and the New Social Democratic Party (NSDP);
- Ljube Boskovski, former Interior Minister acquitted by the ICTY in The Hague after having been indicted for war crimes (for having held the command of a police unit which is said to have tortured and assassinated Albanians in August 2001 in Ljuboten (the judgement is not final however since the prosecutor has appealed against this), is standing as an independent candidate;
- Imer Selmani, leader of New Democracy (DR), an Albanian speaking party founded in September 2008;
- Agron Buxhaku, the Democratic Union for Integration candidate (DUI-BDI), a party led by Alija Ahmeti;
- Mirushe Hoxha, candidate for the Democratic Albanian Party (PDA-PDSh), member of the present government coalition, a party led by Menduh Thaci;
- Nano Ruzin, the Democratic Liberal Party candidate (LDP) a party led by Risto Penov.
A country at a crossroads
Winner of the last general elections on 1st June 2008 the Revolutionary Organisation –Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), dominates the political arena in the polls far ahead of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). The VMRO-DPMNE appointed Gjorgji Ivanov, an intellectual, who is not a member of the party and who claims to be independent of any type of ideology as its official candidate in the presidential election during a vote by 1,016 delegates on 25th January (91 voted for Todor Petrov). "United, we are stronger," said Gjorgji Ivanov as he was appointed adding "Macedonia can be proud of its heritage but this must be used now to build the future."
As for the SDSM, the choice of a non-political figure, appointed and not elected by the party called the attention of the analysts who question the extent of the crisis amongst the party. Former party leader, Radmila Sekerinska resigned after her defeat in the general elections of June 2008 and was replaced by Zoran Zaev. The SDSM even suggested that the VMRO-DMPNE appoint a joint, independent candidate for the presidential election – a proposal that was rejected by the ruling party.
In Macedonia Ljubomir Frckoski is an extremely controversial figure. He is known for publishing a column in the daily Dnevnik every Tuesday, an activity he stopped on 27th January last. "I am not running the race to take part but to win," he said adding "the election must be a turning point and mark the beginning of the defeat of the government in office."
Although the presidential function is honorary tension between the Head of State and the Prime Minister are also damaging for the country as seen with Branko Crvenkovski and Nikola Gruevski.
With regard to the Albanian parties the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) says that it decided to present Agron Buxhaku; according to the party's leader Alija Ahmeti it "shows our political and democratic autonomy and to confirm our party's support of the Euro-Atlantic integration process." "Our participation is symbolic" maintained the chairman of the Albanian Democratic Party, Menduh Thaci. During this election both Albanian-speaking parties want to compare their popularity and measure this against the new party, New Democracy founded by Imer Selman, former chair of the Albanian Democratic Party and himself a candidate in the election.
Independent candidate Ljube Boskovski was convened by the court in Pula (Croatia) on 3rd February for the first hearing in the trial in the so-called Rastanski Lozja case; the latter is a town to the north of Ljuboten where 7 Pakistani and Indian immigrants are said to have been assassinated by Macedonian police in March 2002 and for which the candidate has been indicted. The former Interior Minister did not show up at court. "In spite of being called to the trial Ljube Boskovski's candidature is still valid," maintained the spokesperson of the National Electoral Commission Zoran Tanevski. Indeed the electoral law stipulates that only people who have been proven guilty of a crime and punished with a prison sentence superior to six months are prohibited from standing in the presidential election.
"There is nothing more important for Macedonia than the organisation of democratic, fair elections on 22nd March next because this is a priority in our integration in the EU and NATO and to achieve the easing of the visas regime and also because our citizens have the right to live in a country where law prevails," declared Justice Minister, Mihajlo Manevski. This election is indeed a vital test for the country, an official candidate country for EU membership since December 2005 but for which no date has been established with regard to the opening of membership negotiations. The EU's report of November 2008 takes note of great progress achieved by Macedonia in terms of the reform of the police forces and the legal system; it also notes progress in the consolidation of its multiethnic democracy, however it observes that the country does not respect the political criteria vital in planning the opening of membership negotiations.
The general elections of June 2008 were marked by violence in Aracinovo, a village 10km from Skopje, as well as in the Albanian quarters of Cair in Skopje; many cases of fraud and infringements (destruction and ballot stuffing, theft of electoral material, expulsion of observers responsible for monitoring the election, etc.) were noted across the country. Finally the election had to be interrupted in 22 polling stations. Macedonia therefore failed the test set by the EU which had made the smooth running and the transparency of the election one of the conditions for the opening of membership negotiations.
"If these elections do not meet international standards I fear that this will be a major risk for the country and that it will adjourn its accession to the EU," said Erwan Fouéré, EU special representative in Macedonia. The 27, who recalled that the democratic nature of the election featured amongst Brussels' demands, have promised to help the Macedonians prepare for the Presidential election.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski invited the three leaders of three other of the country's main parties (Social Democratic Union, Albanian Democratic Party and the Democratic Union for Integration) to attend a meeting on 1st March with regard to the presidential and local elections to ensure that these would take place in a democratic manner.
When asked by the Institute for Democracy in December about the issues they believed the most important for the country's future, 45% of Macedonians spoke of the political easing with regard to visas, 30.3% said Macedonia's accession to the EU and 18.6% spoke of its accession to NATO.
In January last students demonstrated outside the HQ of the European Commission in Brussels to denounce the "apartheid regime" of European visas. "Macedonia is in Europe", "No more visas" were the demands to be read on the banners. The demonstrators, who were accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Bocevski, delivered a petition signed by 16,000 students who wanted the issue of the lifting of visas for Macedonia to be put on the agenda of the next EU Council meeting.
According to a poll by the Rating agency mid-February Gjorgji Ivanov is due to win the first round with 27% of the vote. He is due to take the lead over Ljubomir Frckoski who is due to win 13%, as well as Ljube Boskovski who is due to win 10% and Imer Selmani (9%). Slightly less than one quarter of those interviewed said however they were undecided (23%). Gjorgji Ivanov is due to win the second round against Ljubomir Frckoski, likewise if he stands against Ljube Boskovski.
The electoral campaign will officially start on 1st March to end on 20th March at midnight.
Source: Macedonian Electoral Commission