Surprising progress in Macedonian elections

Wed 8 Feb 2017

Surprising progress in Macedonian elections

The Macedonian elections have been nothing short of a whirlwind of political discussion and insecurity. After the conservative VMRO DPMNE and Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM, both claimed victory because of their close finish, a coalition has not yet been formed. However, despite the tumultuous last weeks in Macedonia, there has now been surprising progress in the negotiations for a possible coalition. Currently, SDSM is in conversation with Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, in order to come to an agreement. An agreement between SDSM and DUI would still not lead to a majority, but Besa and Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA-led Movement for Reform have confirmed that they will back SDSM and thus a majority coalition could be formed between SDSM, DUI, Besa and DPA-led Movement for Reform. The ongoing conversations are very hopeful for the formation of a stable government. Before these conversations took place, a lot has happened with the political stability of the country.

Gruevski’s Ruling

Previous prime minister of Macedonia; Nikola Gruevski was in power from 2006 to January 18th, 2016  in a coalition with DUI. Right before he came into power, Macedonia had been a rather successful country, gaining EU candidate status in 2005. Nevertheless, a long-standing name dispute with Greece has been stagnating the EU integration process with Greece vetoing the opening of the accession negotiations. The accession negotiations give the EU the most leverage and influence on structural and sustainable reforms in a candidate state. Gruevski has been using the lack of progress for EU membership to establish an authoritarian regime and to engage in a national identity building adventure. The combination of a lack of European perspective and nationalism proved to be a serious threat to democracy and stability in Macedonia: manipulation and fraud at the elections, control over the judiciary and weakening of the rule of law and media freedom, a non-functioning parliament and growing dissatisfaction among the Albanian minority.

In 2015 opposition leader Zaev (SDSM) accused Gruevski and the secret police of wiretapping over 20.000 people including ministers, opposition politicians, journalists, judges, foreign ambassadors and activists. Special Prosecution Office (SJO) led the investigation into the wiretaps and pressed charges against high ranked government officials, including the prime minister and minister of interior. Nonetheless, President Ivanov pardoned all politicians facing criminal investigations in the wiretapping corruption scandal, leading to a peak in political instability in 2016. The mass street protests that followed this, united Macedonians and Albanians in their call for better living standards, the fight against corruption and end of the Gruevski rule. Pressured by the EU and US, Gruevski agreed to step down and call early elections. The EU mediated Przino Agreement between position and opposition determined that SDSM would take part in the transition government that would prepare free and fair elections. The main conditions were to establish an independent public broadcaster and to clean up the voting register.

Election results

The elections were eventually held on December 11th, 2016. It turned out that VMRO DPMNE had 38% of the voters, while SDSM had 36.7%, leading to 51 and 49 seats respectively. The result of this election was surprising because many people expected VMRO DPMNE to come out with a clear victory. A lot of people in Macedonia are dependent on governmental and municipal jobs, leading to a large dependency on the previous ruling party; VMRO DPMNE. Nevertheless, it appears that the actions of the transition government have been successful and the independent public broadcaster and cleaning up of the voting register helped to make the elections as fair as possible. DUI, an Albanian party which was previously in coalition with VMRO DPMNE, lost the most seats; going from 19 to 10 seats. Other Albanian parties have a total of 10 seats; Besa with 5 seats, DPA-led Movement of Reforms has 3 seats and DPA 2. In order to have a majority, parties need 61 seats.

The results mean that if VMRO DPMNE would be able to form a coalition with DUI it has enough seats to claim the victory. This coalition is very unlikely because due to DUI’s former coalition with VMRO DPMNE it has lost a lot of popularity as they implemented policies that Albanians were not happy with. Particularly with the local elections coming up in May, DUI cannot lose more popularity. Moreover, all parties apart from VMRO DPMNE agreed that they want to exclude any people in the government who are being investigated by the special prosecution. Meaning that the VMRO DPMNE would not be able to create any coalition except if they would get a different party leader, which is highly unlikely. If SDSM wants to form a coalition, it has to reach out to more parties than DUI in order to get enough seats. The problem with this is that all the other Albanian parties have initially said that they are not willing to form a coalition with DUI because of its past with VMRO DPMNE. Finally, DPA decided to give its two seats to Besa because they believe Besa was the moral winner and they want to give them a better negotiating position. Moreover, DPAs leader, Menduh Thaci has resigned as the party’s chief.

Aftermath

Eventually the Albanian prime minister; Edi Rama, asked all Macedonian Albanian parties to meet with him, surprisingly they all agreed; bringing DUI together with BESA and the DPA parties. They signed a joint declaration with seven conditions mainly regarding the Albanians, which will serve as a platform for their future participation in any government that is formed following the December 11th general election.

Following a re-run election in a single polling station that led to no change in the results, Gruevski was invited to form a government within 20 days. Gruevski’s only hope was DUI because he was ruled out by all other parties, at the same time a coalition between DUI and VMRO DPMNE would lead to a huge loss in popularity for both parties. Eventually, VMRO DMPNE missed its deadline to form a government, stating that it wants new elections. The government now had to pick between giving the mandate to SDSM or choosing another person from VMRO DPMNE. As there was no constitutional rule on the happenings, the president decided that he wants proof of a parliamentary majority before handing anyone a mandate to form a government.

This leads to the current political situation in Macedonia, where there are talks between SDSM and DUI about forming a coalition. The talks are so far constructive and it seems likely that they could lead to a victory for a surprising and hopeful coalition between SDSM, DUI, Besa and DPA-led Movement for Reform.