09/05/2011 - Analysis
On 15th April the Sobranie, the only Chamber of Parliament in Macedonia, was dissolved by 79 of the 120 MPs and early general elections were convened for 5th June by Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). According to the electoral law the election has to be organised within 60 days following dissolution. This decision follows the political crisis that Macedonia has been experiencing since the beginning of 2011.
An early election after political crisis
Indeed since 28th January the opposition forces – the Social Democratic Union, SDSM and the Albanian Democratic Party, PDA-PDSh (i.e. 38 MPs in all) – decided to boycott the sessions of Parliament in protest against the freezing of the bank accounts of media tycoon Velij Aramkovski, owner of the TV channel A1 and the newspapers Vreme, Shpic and E Re. Velij Aramkovski was arrested with 16 of his employees in December 2010; he is accused of tax evasion to a total of 4.1 million € – an accusation that he denies. The freezing of bank accounts "is undemocratic and reveals an authoritarian regime which deserves no legitimacy" stressed the opposition leader, Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM), who demanded the organisation of early general elections.
"Nikola Gruevski is only interested in one thing: hiding his own crimes. He wants to bury the truth and remain with his own lies and his own media which are his megaphones," declared the opposition leader. "Nikola Gruevski now has the Parliament he wanted, a parliament without an opposition," he added. Four months after the start of the opposition's boycott the head of government which is a coalition of his party and the Albanian speaking Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) finally gave in to the opposition forces' requests. "The Prime Minister had no other choice but to respond to the opposition's request," explained the director of the institute Euro-Balkan, Jovan Donev.
The VMRO-DPMN qualified the opposition forces decision "as a crime contrary to the interests of Macedonia and its perspective for a European future." "The irresponsible behaviour of some politicians may ruin the results that we have achieved," declared parliament's spokesperson Trajko Veljanovski who denounced the 'artificial political crisis' created by the opposition parties.
The SDSM which indicated that it would not give up its boycott of Parliament announced that it would take part in the next general elections. According to a poll by the Pavel Satev Institute three-quarters of the Macedonians (72.3%) are against the boycott undertaken by the opposition. The SDSM asked for the revision of the electoral lists and of the constituencies prior to the election; they also asked for a new law which would stop the government from promoting the pro-State media. The head of government granted the first two requests.
A Difficult Socio-Economic Situation
Macedonia has been experiencing a socio-economic crisis and also an almost permanent political crisis for the last three years. On 19th January last Skopje had to resort to foreign aid and obtained a 2 year loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF): 390 million € in the first year, and a sum that may rise to 475 million € overall. Macedonia has been granted this loan as part of a security loan, which is a credit line designed for member countries that have sound economic bases and an excellent history of implementing healthy policies but which are still vulnerable from an economic point of view. Many analysts forecast that this loan will not be enough and that the country will soon be obliged to turn to foreign sources for aid once more.
GDP growth totalled 1.2% last year and is due to reach 3.5% in 2011. Unemployment affects around one third of Macedonians and 30% of the population lives below the poverty line. The average salary is 250€, i.e. very much below the European average. A recent poll revealed that half of Macedonian high school students (49.5%) wanted to leave their country in the next ten years. The lack of professional opportunities and social disorder are the main reasons that motivate emigration.
"We have not witnessed the progress we expected," declared Stefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy on 6th April as he spoke of Macedonia. He pointed out that rapid reform was vital in the area of political dialogue, judicial administration and the civil service and also in terms of countering corruption; reform with regard to the freedom of expression and the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement (the peace agreement signed by the main Macedonian parties on 13th August 2001 to end the violence that was ongoing in the same year between the government forces in Skopje and the Albanian guerrilla (National Liberation Army)). "We have reached a critical moment: Macedonia can either take the path towards the EU for our mutual benefit, or it can regress," indicated Stefan Füle.
Since the return of former President of the Republic (2004-2009) Branko Crvenkovski as its leader the SDSM has been working to strengthening its profile as a leading party amongst the electorate. It is trying to take advantage of the – real – discontent of the people in order to return to power.
Branko Crvenkovski accuses Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of not having succeeded in finding a solution to the problem of Macedonia's name which has led to conflict with Greece for the last 20 years. Since 1991 Athens has refused the idea of Macedonia taking this name believing that this is part of its own heritage (Macedonia is the name of a province in the north of Greece). Athens pretends that the use of this name may lead Skopje to claim certain territories in this Greek province. Macedonia joined the UN in 1993 under the provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It has been an official candidate of the EU since 2005 and hopes to launch membership negotiations that are in stalemate because of the dispute over the country's name.
The last general elections (1st June 2008) also took place early after the rejection of Macedonia's membership bid to join NATO in April 2008, a rejection that came after Greece's veto over the country's name.
On 4th May last former leader of the party and former Prime Minister (May-June 2004 and November-December 2004), Radmila Sekerinska was appointed as the SDSM's candidate for these general elections. "Radmila Sekerinska is synonymous to Macedonia's integration into the EU, she enjoys the respect of Brussels and Washington," declared Branko Crvenkovski who said that he did not want to be a member of the government if his party wins the elections on 5th June.
The mayor of Gostivar, Rufi Osmani founded his own political party at the end of March, National Democratic Renaissance (RDK). "The Ohrid Agreement has not achieved its historic goal because it was conditioned by the 20% principle, an ironic, anti-Albanian act. Today Macedonia is the same as it was in 2001: the violence against and repression of Albanians continues," he declared. "We shall fight for Albanians to be acknowledged as the second constituent people of Macedonia, that the Albanian language is defined as the second official language nationally and that the decentralisation of power is greater than it is now," added Rufi Osmani.
The RDK is due to stand alone but although it has rejected any coalition with the two main Albanian speaking parties – the Democratic Union for Integration led by Alija Ahmeti and the Albanian Democratic Party led by Menduh Thaci – it has not ruled out the possibility of working with New Democracy led by Imer Selmani.
The Macedonian Political System
The Parliament (Sobranie), which is mono-cameral, comprises 120 members elected by proportional representation (Hondt method) for a 4 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.
5 political parties are represented in the present parliament :
- the Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), lies to the right of the political scale and was founded in 1990 by former Prime Minister (1998-2002) Ljubco Georgievski and has been led since 2005 by outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, has 63 seats;
- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), an opposition party led since May 2009 by former President of the Republic (2004-2009), Branko Crvenkovski, has 27 seats;
- the Albanian Democratic Party (PDA-PDSh), was created in 1995 by Arben Xhaferi and is led by Menduh Thaci, has 11 seats;
- the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI), a member of the present government coalition is led by Alija Ahmeti. Successor to the UCK (officially dismantled in 1999), it has 18 seats;
- the Party for a European Future (PEI), was founded by intellectuals and businessmen and defines itself as centrist. It is led by Fijat Canoski, and has one seat.
All of the polls are forecasting victory on 5th June for the VMRO-DPMNE with less seats than before however (the party holds the absolute majority at present). According to the director of the institute Euro Balkan, Jovan Donev the opposition has very little chance of winning but "the SDSM will play the opposition unification card in order to reduce the comfortable majority that the coalition 'For a Better Macedonia' enjoys right now."
According to the last poll by the Institute for Democracy and the association Centre for International Cooperation the VMRO-DPMNE is due to win 22% of the vote ahead of the SDSM with 10%.
As for the Albanian speaking parties the Democratic Union for Integration is said to be in the lead with 5%, the Albanian Democratic Party is due to win 1.9%.
More than a quarter of those interviewed (28.1%) say they do not think they will vote on 5th June next and 16.4% say they still have not made their choice.
Outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is the political personality in whom Macedonians are most confident (20%). Only 4.6% of those interviewed say they trust Branko Crvenkovski ; 4.3% approve of Ali Ahmeti; 2.9% Radmila Sekerisnka; 2.3% Rufi Osmani; 1.7% Imer Selmani and 1.6% Menduh Thaci.
According to a poll by Orites, economic issues and unemployment are the electorate's priorities. One quarter of them (24%) believes that the VMRO-DPMNE is the best placed to counter problems such as unemployment and poverty.
Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska announced on 19th April that Skopje had formed a task force devoted to the security of the elections on 5th June next.
Source : National Electoral Commission of Macedonia