For a long time, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is considered a relative success story in the region: no major conflicts, fairly successful state-building process, and no territory issues. After years of showing dedication to the Ohrid Agreement,(the 2001 peace deal between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanians) and implementing reforms, Macedonia even received EU candidacy status in December 2005. The promise of EU and NATO membership (by 2008 the criteria for entering NATO were fulfilled) are important tools in uniting Macedonians with Albanian minorities. However, despite UN mediation, the long-standing name dispute with Greece has been stagnating the EU integration process and NATO membership. Therefore, the presidential and municipal elections in 2009 and the general elections in June 2011 formed an important test. According to OSCE reports, most criteria for fair elections were met in both elections. However, after the 2014 elections, a deep political conflict arose from a governmental wiretap-scandal. Political tensions drag on until today and PM Nikola Gruevski recently resigned (15 January). Since then, the planning and supervision of the next elections have been heavily debated. Tempers are running extra high now the Constitutional Court might pardon individuals who rigged previous elections. On Tuesday evening (14 March) a protest march, backed by civil society organisations, the main opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Grom party, filled the streets of Skopje.
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- 2,078,453 (World Bank 2015 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Parliamentary democracy
- Ruling Coalition:
- VMRO-DPMNE, BDI/DUI and several small parties
- Last Elections:
- 27 April 2014 (parliamentary and presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 11 December 2016 (parliamentary elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM)
Macedonia is a parliamentary republic, where the Prime Minister is the head of the government. The political organisation of the country was organised in the 1991 Constitution.
The Assembly, or the Sobrania, is the only chamber of parliament and comprises 123 members. The Assembly members are elected by proportional representation for a four-year term in office. In general elections, Macedonia is divided into six constituencies electing 120 MPs each. 3 seats are elected by representatives of the Macedonian citizens living abroad: 1 from Europe, 1 from North America, and 1 from Asia and Australia.
Pressure on June 2016 elections
In recent years, the opposition boycotted the parliament multiple times. Since the last elections lacked transparency and were subsequently rigged, the opposition did not want to participate in the parliamentary process. The incumbent party repeatedly dismissed these claims, adding that the opposition is simply afraid to go to the ballot box. One of the main issues, according to the opposition, is the electoral roll. The validity of many votes is questionable. The State Electoral Commission is finally researching if registered voters are actually deceased, lack citizenship or do not have the right age. Another relieve for the opposition was the support of the EU and the US to their critique of democracy in Macedonia. On 21 February, the EU and the US sent a joint letter pressuring the government to postpone the date of the elections, initially set for 24 April. Eventually they were postponed to 5 June. The written statement further declared that, all conditions needed to organise credible elections, had not been met: the clean-up of the electoral roll, the creation of a level playing field for all political players, media reforms ensuring objective and unbiased election coverage, and measures to separate state and party political activities. As such the external interference arranged prerequisites for the next elections. However, according to the EU mediator Peter van Houtte, talks on such reforms have halted. He confirmed that some political parties are not interested in continuing reform talks. Tamara Chausidis, from the Independent Journalist’s Trade Union SSNM, states that the talks on media reform have fallen victim to murky bargaining between the political parties.
Whether all the necessary reforms will be made in time for 5 June is uncertain. It is also unclear if the elections can proceed and whether the opposition will and can join in a fair matter. However, the OSCE plans to monitor them in any case. Besides their permanent mission to Skopje, which assists with the reform of the electoral system, the OSCE is invited to monitor the parliamentary elections. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) also undertook a Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) from 2 to 5 November. The purpose of the mission was to assess the pre-election environment and the preparations for the elections. Based on the assessment, the NAM will recommend whether to deploy an OSCE/ODIHR election-related activity for the forthcoming elections, and if so, what type of activity best meets the identified needs.
Political Crisis 2014-2015
The 2014 parliamentary elections led to a deep political crisis in Macedonia. In disagreement with the election result, the SDSM party decided to block parliament. This deadlock-situation exaggerated when the party started releasing wiretapped materials to ‘incriminate the government’ from February on. The wiretap publications have covered several topics. The opposition has accused governmental officials of multiple activities, for instance electoral fraud, abuse of the legal system, and the illegal surveillance of citizens. Gruevski and other government officials stated repeatedly that the tapes were ‘created by foreign secret services’ and are attempts of the opposition to destabilize the country. Moreover, Gruevski publicly accused Zaev of “espionage” and “violence towards high-level officials”. Right after this public statement, the public prosecutor charged Zaev with espionage and with making violent threats aimed at the government to undermine the goals of the constitutional order.
The situation escalated in May, when audio tapes were published in which Nikola Gruevski, Interior Affairs Minister, Gordana Jankuloska, the Chief of Intelligence, and other officials can be heard discussing how to ‘cover up’ the killing of a man during protests in 2011, in order to prevent governmental responsibility. During protests that followed the 2011 general elections, a 22-year old man, Martin Neskovski, was beaten to death by a police officer. According to eyewitnesses, he was killed due to excessive police violence, which stirred huge demonstrations among Macedonians during the following days. Initially governmental sources denied that Spasov was on duty that day, and issued a statement that the government could thus not be held responsible for the murder. According to the wiretapped conversations however, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Security, Dejan Mitrevski Urko, contacted Spasov on that night, which according to the opposition showed that the government could be held responsible.
These publications were followed by massive demonstrations on the streets of Skopje during May. As a reaction to the anti-government rally, government supporters also started their own pro-government rally, thereby contributing to the current stalemate in Macedonia. By the beginning of June, parties have reached an EU-brokered agreement to hold early elections in April 2016.
Political crisis December 2012 – March 2013
The political crisis started with a disagreement over the Draft Budget for 2013. On Christmas Eve 2012, during a session of the parliament, the budget was on the agenda, but the main opposition party Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) stated that instead of following the principles and rules commonly used during such a session, several violations were reported. Draft versions were kept away from opposition MPs including the SDSM, which were not able to get voting cards, while media representatives could not work freely in the room. After opposing the constitutional and legal breaches, scuffles broke out between members of the ruling centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party and the SDSM MPs in which opposition members were forcibly evicted from the plenary room. Before this outburst of violence, all journalists had already been removed from the room, either on their own feet or dragged by policemen.
After this event, the SDSM decided to boycott the parliament sessions, which ultimately lasted for more than two months, and threatened to derail local elections that were supposed to be held on 24 March 2013. The SDSM stated that it would renounce the boycott only when the local elections were held together with an early national election.
These events have triggered a succession of demonstrations in Macedonia. On 19 February a former leader of the now disbanded ethnic Albanian separatist armed group, was chosen to become the new Minister of Defence. In a reaction to this appointment, clashes took place in Skopje against ethnic Albanians of Macedonia, which was followed days later by a violent demonstration of ethnic Albanians.
The political crisis was resolved at the beginning of March, after a mediation effort by EU Enlargement Commissioner, Štefan Füle, and European Parliament Rapporteur for Macedonia, Richard Howitt. The SDSM agreed on 1 March to return to parliament and to run in the local elections. These elections were held on 25 March and 7 April. Victory was declared by Macedonia’s ruling VMRO-DPMNE, under the lead of Nikola Gruevski.
Opposition between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians has been on the rise in Macedonia where the latter represent about a quarter of the population, the largest ethnic minority in the country. Disagreements are mainly due to their different religions, respectively Orthodox Christianity and Islam. The country, which had been relatively spared from inter-ethnic violence after the break-up of Yugoslavia, underwent great tensions from 2001 onwards, when the Albanian minority started demanding greater rights. The 1998-1999 war in Kosovo had forced thousands of Albanians to stream into Macedonia. Since then, the Ohrid Agreement, signed with the support of the European Union and NATO, had guaranteed a unitary Macedonian state, reinforced by its EU candidate status since 2005. Nonetheless, violence keeps on sparking regularly. In March 2013, riots had started from the Macedonian side after Talat Xhaferi, a former Albanian guerrilla commander was appointed as defence minister. In April of the same year, Johan Tarculovski, the only Macedonian convicted of war crimes against Albanians by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was granted a hero’s welcome as he came back to Skopje, raising disagreement from the Albanian community. Winter 2013 saw the opposition of the two ethnic groups over the building of a new Orthodox Christian Church in a Muslim-dominated village.
Women and Minority representation
The first real changes in women representation in Parliament were reached after the 2002 elections. The percentage of female deputies rose from 7.5 percent (1998) to 17.5 percent. After the 2008 parliamentary elections, this share went further up to 32,5 percent. The rise in women participation was facilitated by the successful lobbying campaign of different women rights NGO's to secure a constitutional amendment obligating parties to include at least 30 percent women candidates in their election lists.
After the reforms necessitated by the Ohrid Agreement, minority representation has increased. From the 2006 until the 2008 parliamentary elections, the DPA was the main vehicle for Albanian representation in government, despite being the smaller of the two ethnic Albanian parties. This led to resentment with the DUI, and considerable tensions between supporters of the two parties. After the 2008 elections, prime minister Nikola Gruevski announced that the ruling “For a better Macedonia” coalition would from now on govern in a coalition with the biggest ethnic Albanian party, which is the DUI with 18 seats. Several minority lists of smaller minorities were also part of the “For a better Macedonia” coalition, including lists of Macedonian Serbs and Turks.
Despite their increasing representation, Albanians still claim unequal involvement in government ministries and public enterprises. The US Department of State’s 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices underlined that out of the 123 Parliament seats, only 23 were obtained by Albanians while other ethnic minorities accounted for 13 seats. These figures contradict the Ohrid Agreement principles, which stated that “The multi-ethnic character of Macedonia’s society must be preserved and reflected in public life”, notably in the public administration. Rural inhabitants, for their part, nourish resentment towards the State, blamed for hiding issues of corruption and absence of integration policies through destabilising the country.
On 27 April 2014 dual elections took place: both for the Macedonian president and the parliament. On 1 March 2014 it was announced that Macedonia was set to call early parliamentary elections in order to end a political deadlock sparked by the two main ruling coalition members. They could not agree on a candidate for the upcoming presidential vote. VMRO-DPMNE rejected the idea of a mutually agreed presidential candidate. Instead they nominated the current President, Gjorge Ivanov, as their candidate. The junior coalition member DUI was angered by this and therefore demanded early general elections. The main opposition Social Democratic party (SDSM) said it would support early elections. They put Stevo Pendarovski forward as presidential candidate. Pendarovski was a serious challenge to Ivanov as he is seen as an acceptable candidate by the Albanian minority, but Ivanov got the most votes.
Ivanov’s party, VMRO-DPMNE, became the biggest party, followed by SDSM. However, the opposition does not accept the results and refuses to take seat in parliament. These parties further boycotted the inauguration of president Gjorge Ivanov on 12 May 2014 and were absent at the ceremonial handing of Members of Parliament certificates on 7 May 2014.
|Party||% of votes||Seats in Parliament|
|Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM)||25.34||34|
|Democratic Union for Integration (DUI)||13.71||19|
|Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA)||5.92||7|
|Citizen Option for Macedonia (GROM)||2.82||1|
|National Democratic Revival (NDR)||1.59||1|
% of votes First round (turnout 48.86%)
|% of votes Second round (turnout 54.36%)|
|Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE)||51.69||55.27|
|Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM)||37.51||41.14|
|Illijaz Halima (DPA)||4.48||-|
NGO – Research Organisations
- British Helsinki Human Rights Group
- Freedom House
- Foundation Robert Schuman
- Hans Boeckler Stiftung
- Heinrich Boell Stiftung
- International Crisis Group (IGC)
- International IDEA
- New York University Law School: East European Constitutional Review
- Transparency International
- Economist Intelligence Unit
- CNN.com International
- Euractiv.com (Inc. article from the Centre for European Policy Studies)
- Institute for War Peace Reporting
- MIA news agency
- Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
- Transitions Online
- CIA World Factbook
- Republic of Macedonia Agency of Information
- Macedonian State Election Commission
- UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Country Profiles
- European Commission: The EU’s relations with South East Europe
- Election Reports
- Crook, Nick and Michael Dauderstädt, André Gerrits: “Social Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe” (Amsterdam:2002)
- Development Strategies, Italy, and Institutional Development Consultancy, France
- “Evaluation of the EC’s Country Strategy in FYR Macedonia for the years 1996-2001”
- Lampe, John, R., Yugoslavia as History: Twice there was a Country, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000
- Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research “Political Parties Development in the Republic of Macedonia” –, Skopje (issue 6, September 2002)