Note to readers: May will be an extremely busy month for elections – Panama, South Africa, India, the EU, Ukraine, Colombia, Belgium and other local/regional elections. Due to time constraints, not all elections will be covered or will be covered with less details. The Guide to the South African Election will not be completed before the RSA election, although it will be completed in the coming months. I welcome guest posts on any of these upcoming elections. Please bare with me as I will try to cover as much as I can, and forgive me for not covering all elections.
Parliamentary and presidential (runoff) elections were held in the Republic of Macedonia on April 27, 2014. Macedonia is a parliamentary republic with the Prime Minister as head of government. The unicameral Assembly (Македонско Собрание) has 123 seats, with 120 members elected by proportional representation (d’Hondt) in six 20-member electoral units and an additional three members elected by Macedonian citizens living abroad, in three overseas constituencies (respectively: the Americas, Europe-Africa and Asia-Oceania). There were 23,782 registered voters abroad (up from about 7200 in 2011, when the three expats seats were created). The Prime Minister is nominated by the President from the largest party(ies) in the Assembly, and the government is responsible to the Assembly which may remove it through a vote of no confidence.
The President is directly elected by voters to serve a five-year term, renewable once, using the two-round system. To win in the first round, a candidate must obtain 50%+1 of the vote of all registered voters; if no candidate is elected, a second round is held two weeks later between the top two candidates, and turnout must be over 40% for the election to be valid. In the first round, held on April 13, the incumbent President won over 50% of the votes cast, but because of low turnout he won only 25.3% of registered voters, forcing a runoff with his closest rival. The President’s role, especially in domestic policy, is largely ceremonial, but the President has more significant powers in foreign policy, by making diplomatic appointments, and as Commander-in-Chief of the military.
The Republic of Macedonia covers part of a region of the southern Balkans which has been disputed between regional powers for hundreds of years. The region of Macedonia includes the territory of the Republic of Macedonia (formerly known as ‘Vardar Macedonia’) but also ‘Pirin Macedonia’ (Blagoevgrad Province) in Bulgaria and Greek Macedonia in Greece; the latter of which is the second most populous region of Greece, with 2.4 million inhabitants, which is also greater than the population of the Republic of Macedonia, with a population just over 2 million. Macedonia takes its name from ancient Macedon, the mythical kingdom which expanded into a regional and later world power between 359 and 336 BC under the rule of Philip II and Alexander the Great. The core of the historic kingdom of Macedon laid in present-day northern Greece, while what is currently the Republic of Macedonia was the peripheral kingdom of Paeonia, later conquered by Macedon. Under Roman rule, however, Macedonia came to refer to a province included much of northern and central Greece but also most of the Republic of Macedonia and parts of Albania. Under late Roman and Byzantine rule, the name Macedonia was given to administrative divisions whose boundaries shifted dramatically, to include most of the Greek Peninsula or Thrace (while, after 1018, the present-day Republic of Macedonia was in the Byzantine theme of Bulgaria, while the theme of Macedonia was centered around Thrace). After the Ottoman conquest, the name Macedonia came to refer to a geographic region rather than an administrative division.
Under Ottoman rule, which lasted until 1913, Macedonia was a diverse and disputed regions inhabited by Slavs (who likely migrated southwards to the Balkans in the 6th century), Greeks and smaller minorities of Albanians, Turks, Aromanians and Jews (who constituted the majority of the population of the southern Macedonian city of Thessaloniki/Salonica). Today, both the Slavic (Macedonian Slavs and some Bulgarians) and Greek inhabitants of greater Macedonia self-identify as ‘Macedonians’. In the late nineteenth century, with the rise of romantic nationalism, Macedonia, under fledgling Ottoman rule, was a highly disputed battleground between the newly-independent states of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia with each state claiming Macedonia (or parts thereof) as their one and the inhabitants of Macedonia as legitimately theirs. Most of the Slav population of Vardar and Pirin Macedonia were described as Bulgarian, by Bulgarians themselves but also foreign observers. Indeed, the Slavic population of northern Macedonia spoke Bulgarian (or dialects closely related to it) and most self-identified as Bulgarian, a label which coexisted a nascent sentiment of Macedonian regional (but not national) identity. The Bulgarian Exarchate, created in 1870 as part of a broader ‘Bulgarian national revival’ played a major role in promoting education and nationalist-regionalist sentiments. Simultaneously, the Greek population of southern Macedonia strongly identified with Greek nationalism (the Megali Idea) and were driven by the goal of enosis, or union with Greece. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and Greek nationalists tried to win the allegiance of non-Greek Macedonians on religious (shared Christian, Orthodox, religion) and historical (the legacy of Macedon) grounds. Serbian nationalism viewed Serbs as the leaders of the Southern Slavs, with the destiny of uniting all Southern Slavs in a single state (Yugoslavia); however, Serbia lacked the tools with which to promote its own version of nationalism in Macedonia and was originally more interested by Bosnia and Kosovo. Later, Serbian propaganda in Macedonia aimed to wean Macedonian Slavs from their identification as Bulgarian (to counteract Bulgarian influence), by promoting the idea that they were ‘Macedonian Slavs’ rather than Bulgarians. A small number of Macedonian Slav intellectuals did develop ideas that Macedonian Slavs formed their own nation, distinct from Bulgaria. Above all, however, identity in the region was still very fluid – definitions of locals as Bulgarian, Serb and so on was rather arbitrary, often based not only on political conviction but also on calculations of personal safety and financial benefits.
The 1878 Treaty of San Stefano granted almost all of Macedonia to a new Bulgarian state, but the 1878 Treaty of Berlin returned all of Macedonia to Ottoman control, leaving the new Bulgarian state with only the northern portion of present-day Bulgaria, without Eastern Rumelia, Macedonia or Thrace. The result was to intensify Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian rivalry over Macedonia, giving rise to the ‘Macedonian Question’. In 1893, what became the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (Vnatrešna Makedonska Revolucionerna Organizacija, VMRO) in 1920 was founded. The VMRO’s members largely identified as ethnic Bulgarians, but the aims of the VMRO remained fairly murky for most of its existence; it originally supported autonomy for Macedonia and Thrace within the Ottoman Empire, but members were divided between the goal of unification with Bulgaria or the creation of a Balkan Federation in which Macedonia and Thrace would be equal members (federalism was generally supported by socialists in the VMRO, who envisioned a Balkan Socialist Federation). Generally, however, the aims of political autonomy did not imply secession from Bulgarian identity, although the VMRO later opened its doors to all ethnic groups in Macedonia and it was not controlled by the Bulgarian government. The VMRO quickly became a guerrilla/terrorist organization, and in 1903, despite internal disagreements, the VMRO staged the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which was violently and bloodily crushed by the Ottomans. Following the failure of the 1903 uprising, the VMRO became increasingly divided between left-wing federalists and the right (favouring annexation by Bulgaria), and VMRO members clashed among one another almost as often as they fought Greek and Serbian guerrilla groups in Macedonia.
Turkey was defeated by the Balkan League alliance of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro in the First Balkan War (1912-1913), sealing the loss of almost all of the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. However, the First Balkan War left the contentious issue of Macedonia unresolved, with the territory now occupied by the Balkan League states. Unsatisfied by the outcome, Bulgaria attacked its former allies, joined by Romania and Turkey, in the Second Balkan War (1913). Defeated, the territory of Macedonia was now partitioned between Greece (southern Macedonia) and Serbia (the bulk of the present-day Republic/’South Serbia’) with only a small portion to Bulgaria. Under Greek and Serbian rule, Macedonia was forcibly ‘Hellenized’ or ‘Serbianized’, with the use of the Bulgarian language banned and the local population either resettled or assimilated. In Vardar Macedonia, however, pro-Bulgarian and anti-Serb sentiments remained widespread, and Bulgarian troops were welcomed and supported by the VMRO when they occupied Serbian Macedonia between 1915 and 1918. In the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria lost Macedonia and other territories to its neighbors.
During the interwar years, the VMRO carried out terrorist and guerrilla attacks in Yugoslavian and Greek territory, and their original solid back-base (called ‘a state within the state’) in Pirin Macedonia (Bulgaria) made it a destabilizing element in interwar Bulgarian domestic politics. In 1923, for example, the VMRO assassinated Bulgarian Prime Minister Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who favoured reconciliation with Yugolsavia and Greece. At the same time, the Comintern tried to use the Macedonian issue as a weapon to destabilize the Balkan monarchies. In 1924, the Comintern voted in favour of an independent and autonomous unified Macedonia in a Balkan Socialist Federation. In 1934, the Comintern published a resolution recognizing a distinct Macedonian national identity. Attempts at cooperation between communists and the VMRO fell through, although the left-wing minority in the VMRO founded the VMRO (United) in 1925. The VMRO remained internally divided, with fratricidal killings and assassination of rival leaders being common through the interwar period.
During World War II, Axis-allied Bulgaria occupied and annexed much of Yugoslav Macedonia, Greek Thrace and parts of Greek Macedonia. Initially welcomed by much of the local Slavic population and supported by the VMRO, resentment against Bulgaria grew. Macedonian communists originally refused to link up with the Yugoslav communist partisans and allied with Bulgarian communists, but after Bulgarian and Macedonian communists advocated for armed resistance after the German invasion of the USSR, local communist partisan units were formed in Macedonia. Some VMRO members, such as Ivan Mihailov, collaborated with Bulgaria and later Nazi Germany.
After the war, Tito’s Yugoslavia regained the territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia. In 1943, the communists had recognized the ‘Macedonian nation’ as a separate entity and, at war’s end, Macedonia was proclaimed as a Socialist Republic within the Yugoslavian federation. Between 1945 and the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (supported by the Greek communists, defeated in the Greek Civil War) maintained friendly ties, envisioned to form a Balkan Socialist Federation and Bulgaria recognized a distinct Macedonian identity. However, the split between Belgrade and Moscow altered the situation dramatically. The Yugoslavian government now actively (and successfully, in the end) promoted the construction of a Macedonian identity, both as a means to counteract Bulgaria and to reduce Serbian influence and power within Yugoslavia. Under communist rule in Macedonia, the authorities codified a standard Macedonian language (it is most closely related to Bulgarian), encouraged the development of a national culture, reinterpreted history (notably by appropriating ancient and Bulgarian figures as symbols of Macedonian nationalism), established an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church. However, Macedonian nationalists (separatists), former VMRO (United) members and VMRO members who had collaborated with Bulgaria were the target of state repression. The Bulgarian government reversed its earlier position and denied the existence of a Macedonian identity.
With the fall of communism, Macedonia, still a republic of Yugoslavia, held free elections in November 1990. The ruling League of Communists, which would transform itself into the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija, SDSM) in early 1991, won 31 seats against 38 for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (Vnatrešna makedonska revolucionerna organizacija – Demokratska partija za makedonsko nacionalno edinstvo, VMRO-DPMNE), a new right-wing Macedonian nationalist party which appropriated the VMRO’s tradition in its name. The VMRO-DPMNE, although it won the most seats, refused to form a coalition with the ethnically Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (17 seats), which instead joined a coalition with the SDSM. In September 1991, 96% of voters voted in favour of the independence of the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ and the country’s independence was officially declared on September 25, 1991. Macedonia was the only country of the former Yugoslavia whose independence was not resisted by Yugoslav forces. Although the most radical Serbian irredentists claim Macedonia as part of ‘Greater Serbia’, Belgrade had more pressing concerns in 1991 than Macedonia.
The SDSM was reelected in 1994, with the VMRO-DPMNE boycotting the second round of voting. Branko Crvenkovski formed a new government with the Party for Democratic Prosperity. In 1998, the VMRO-DPMNE won the elections and, under Ljubčo Georgievski, formed a government with an Albanian party.
The Republic of Macedonia’s application to join the UN was blocked by Greece, which contested the country’s name, flag and constitution. The Greek Foreign Ministry justifies its position by claiming that the Republic of Macedonia promotes irredentist territorial ambitions over Greek territory through the “counterfeiting of history and usurpation of Greece’s national and historical heritage.” Greece considers the ‘Macedonian nation’ to be an “artificial and spurious notion, which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.” Greece considers the culture and heritage of ancient Macedon to belong to the ‘Hellenic nation’ and forming an inseparable part of Greek culture; the 2.4 million residents of Greek Macedonia consider themselves to be descendants of the ancient Macedonians, while considering the Slavic inhabitants of Macedonia to be more recent settlers who arrived 1,000 years after the Macedonian empire. Greece also claims that the Macedonian government has territorial ambitions over Greek Macedonia, ambitions which Athens claimed were first expressed by Tito in 1944. There is a small Slavic minority in Greece, which is denied or severely downplayed by Greece and inflated by Macedonia.
The current Macedonian constitution explicitly states that the country has no territorial pretensions towards any neighboring states, although an article of the constitution states that “The Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighboring countries (…) assists their cultural development and promotes links with them. In the exercise of this concern the Republic will not interfere in the sovereign rights of other states or in their internal affairs.” (Article 49). Greece and critics of the Macedonian government claim that Macedonia still unofficially supports irredentist visions of a ‘United Macedonia’ including Pirin Macedonia and ‘Aegean Macedonia’, by promoting such views in school curriculum or through thinly-veiled endorsements of organizations or groups espousing such views (the VMRO-DPMNE, now the ruling party, originally supported a ‘United Macedonia’).
In 1993, after Greece (and, thanks to Greek lobbying, the European Community) had blocked Macedonia’s UN application Skopje and Athens reluctantly agreed to a provisional compromise which allowed Macedonia to join the UN as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), which remains the name under which the UN recognizes Macedonia. Greece, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Australia (among others) recognize Macedonia as FYROM, while the US, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, Bulgaria, Serbia and most UN member states recognize the country as the Republic of Macedonia.
Despite the provisional compromise, dogmatic nationalist agitation ran high on both sides of the naming dispute in the subsequent years. In 1995, Greece and Macedonia agreed to an interim accord. Macedonia agreed to remove allegedly irredentist clauses from its constitution and remove the Vergina Sun (a symbol used in ancient Greece and Macedon which has become a national/regional symbol for both Greek and Slavic Macedonians) from its flag. In exchange, Greece pledged to allow Macedonia to join any international organization under the name FYROM. Since 1995, both sides have accused one another of breaking the Interim Accord.
Negotiations over the naming dispute have continued, under UN auspices, since 1995 but they have reached a stalemate. Greece currently wants a compound name with a geographic qualifier (Upper Macedonia, Northern Macedonia etc) for use by all parties (it had previously objected to any name including ‘Macedonia); Macedonia, while trying to depict Athens as the ‘irrational’ and intransigent party in the dispute, effectively rejects a name with a geographic qualifier (such as ‘Upper Macedonia’, although it may accept something clunky like ‘Upper Republic of Macedonia’). Talks have reached a stalemate, with both sides rather intransigent in their stances and increasingly resorting to nationalist provocation. In April 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, a veto reiterated at successive NATO summits (officially, an invitation will be extended to Macedonia only once the naming dispute is resolved in a mutually acceptable manner). In 2011, the ICJ ruled in favour of Skopje’s argument that Greece’s veto on Macedonia’s NATO invitation represented a breach of the 1995 agreement, but it refused to instruct Greece to refrain from similar behaviour in the future.
The Republic of Macedonia has a significant ethnic Albanian minority, which numbered about 509,000 (or 25% of the population) at the last census in 2002. Ethnic relations, especially in comparison to those in other ex-Yugoslav republics, were relatively good. Nevertheless, Macedonians were reluctant to grant extensive minority rights to the Albanians (such as recognizing Albanian as a second official language). In 1999, ethnic relations worsened with the Kosovo conflict, which forced thousands of Albanian refugees to flee to Macedonia. Macedonians worried of an ‘Albanian invasion’ or a spillover of the Kosovo conflict.
In January 2001, a group calling itself the National Liberation Army (Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare, UÇK), founded and led by former KLA commander Ali Ahmeti, attacked a police station near the majority-Albanian city of Tetovo in western Macedonia. The UÇK reappeared in March 2001 in the mountains surrounding Tetovo, mounting a low-scale insurgency. The conflict escalated when the government ordered a counter-attack on the UÇK’s positions. In July 2001, a ceasefire agreement was reached and, in August 2001, both parties signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement. According to the Ohrid agreement, the Albanian language received certain rights throughout the country while, in all municipalities where a language other than Macedonian is spoken by more than 20%, it is recognized as a second official language. In Parliament, laws related to linguistic/cultural issues, local government, constitutional amendments and the appointment of the Public Attorney (Ombudsman) must be approved by a majority of MPs who claim to belong to ethnic minorities. A majority of these MPs, alongside a majority of all members, also elect three members of the Judicial Council and of the Constitutional Court. In Parliament, MPs were allowed to use Albanian (not explicitly cited as such, but as ‘a language other than Macedonian spoken by over 20% of the population’).
In 2002, the VMRO-DPMNE government was defeated by a coalition led by the SDSM. Crvenkovski returned as Prime Minister, until his election as President in 2004, in coalition with a small liberal party and the Democratic Union for Integration (Bashkimi Demokratik për Integrim/Demokratska unija za integracija, BDI/DUI), a new Albanian party led by former UÇK leader Ali Ahmeti which had won 16 seats (becoming the largest Albanian party). In 2006, the VMRO-DPMNE, led by former finance minister Nikola Gruevski, won the elections and formed a coalition with two small parties and the smaller Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (Partia Demokratike Shqiptare/Demokratska Partija na Albancite, PDSH/DPA). The BDI was angry that it had been excluded from government, in a move which it claimed disrespected the will of Albanian voters. The DUI boycotted Parliament in 2007, and successfully pushed the VMRO-DPMNE to hold snap elections in June 2008. The ruling coalition led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE was reelected with an expanded majority, taking 63 seats against 27 for the SDSM-led opposition, 18 seats for the DUI and 11 for the DPA. After the election, Gruevski changed his Albanian partner to the DUI.
After the SDSM had boycotted Parliament for months after the police raided the building of a private TV channel critical of Gruevski (and later arrested it’s tycoon owner), ostensibly for tax fraud, the government took the SDSM by surprise by giving in to its demand for snap elections. The government was reelected in 2011, with the VMRO-DPMNE coalition taking 56 seats against 42 for the SDSM coalition, 15 for the BDI and 8 for the PDSH. The BDI’s leader, Ali Ahmeti, had been hurt by allegations that he had been an informer for Yugoslavian intelligence.
Parties and issues
The VMRO-DPMNE has become the dominant party in Macedonian politics since winning power in 2006. It was reelected with comfortable majorities in both 2008 and 2011, it gained the presidency in 2009 (with Gjorge Ivanov, a quiet sycophant of the Prime Minister) and it won the local elections in 2013. Gruevski himself, born in 1970, is a young politician who was largely known as a technocratic finance minister under the first VMRO-DPMNE government (1998-2002), when he deregulated the economy, created a VAT and a flat tax. Since then, he has successfully transformed himself into a formidable politician and a popular nationalist and populist leader.
Macedonia hasn’t performed very well since 2006. Although growth is now back to a solid 3% per year, the country was in recession in 2012 and the official unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, at 30% (although that’s better than what it was in 2005: 37%). The government nevertheless plays on the low inflation rate, the low public debt (35.5% of GDP) and populist policies it has adopted (5% increase in wages and pensions, subsidies for agriculture) and promotion of foreign investment. The VMRO-DPMNE supports EU and NATO membership, but NATO membership remains deadlocked and EU accession talks are stalled. In 2001, Macedonia signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU and it was granted candidate status in December 2005. Since 2009, the European Commission has recommended that accession negotiations be launched, but every time, the Council of the European Union decided against due to Greece’s veto. In 2012, Bulgaria, which has difficult relations with Skopje due to disputes over conflicting views over the two countries’ shared history and the ethnic distinctiveness of Macedonia, also vetoed accession talks. Greece conditions membership to a resolution of the name dispute. In 2014, the European Parliament voted in favour of beginning accession negotiations, but it remains to be seen if the Council of the European Union will agree with the EP’s opinion.
Since 2008, the Macedonian government has promoted a more aggressive brand of Macedonian nationalism. The existence of a ‘Macedonian nation’ is a highly contentious issue; both Greece and Bulgaria deny the existence of a distinct ‘Macedonian nation’, while a handful of Serb nationalists still claim Macedonia as part of Greater Serbia. In reality, the Macedonian nation is no more or less of an artificial construct than any other national identity. Since the communist era, the governments in Skopje have controversially laid claim to historic figures as ‘symbols’ of Macedonian nationalism. Since independence, for example, the government – especially under the VMRO-DPMNE – have tried to appropriate the historic VMRO and its leaders as icons of Macedonian nationalism, distinct from Bulgarian nationalism. The VMRO-DPMNE claims descent from the VMRO, although no such links exist and the party is merely using the VMRO’s name for symbolic purposes. VMRO leaders and heroes such as Gotse Delchev, Dame Gruev and Yane Sandanski are mentioned in Macedonia’s national anthems and considered to be national heroes by Macedonia (but also by Bulgaria); Delchev, killed in the 1903 uprising, was an internationalist and supporter of a Balkan federation, but saw himself as Bulgarian, as did most other VMRO leaders.
Far more controversial has been the Gruevski’s government so-called ‘antiquisation’ policy, notably as conveyed by the government’s landmark Skopje 2014 architectural project. Launched in 2010 and nearly completed in 2014, the Skopje 2014 is the government’s large-scale plan to massively revamp Skopje, a fairly drab capital destroyed by a 1963 earthquake, in a classical style. The project included the construction of flashy new buildings and landmarks, often in Greek classical style, housing ministries, museums, the national theater and new bridges. Skopje 2014 is also a calculated, deliberative and ideologically-motivated nationalist project, part of a wider government project to lay claim to the legacy of ancient Macedon and claim that the ‘Macedonians’ are descendants of the ancient Macedonians rather than Slavs. This nationalist project serves the purposes of domestic identity-building and nationalist provocation to put pressure on Greece in the naming dispute. In 2011, a massive statue of Alexander the Great (officially ‘Warrior on a Horse’) was inaugurated in downtown Skopje. Another monument, an even larger statue of Philip II of Macedon, is under construction. In January 2012, a triumphal arch – Porta Macedonia – said to commemorate the struggle for independence, with carved reliefs including references to ancient history, was inaugurated and was met by loud protestations from Athens. The government also renamed Skopje’s airport after Alexander the Great, the highway leading to Greece is now known as ‘Alexander of Macedon’. In 2008, Gruevski welcomed a delegation from the Hunza people of northern Pakistan to Skopje; in mythology, the Hunza people claim to be descended from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army. In 2009, the public television aired a 9-minute long ‘Macedonian Prayer’, a PSA-type message with heavy religious and ultra-nationalist influence: it notably claimed that the Macedonian people were the ‘progenitors of the white race’ as ‘Macedonoids’ (Your mother Earth I have inhabited with three races: the White-Macedonoids, the Yellow-Mongoloids and the Black-Negroids. The rest-all are mulattoes. From you, Macedonians, the descendants of Macedon, I have impregnated the White race and everything began from you, to the Sea of Japan. All White people are your brothers because they carry Macedonian gene.)
The government’s controversial rewriting of history and its Skopje 2014 have been heavily criticized at home and abroad. Greece in particular has been incensed with ‘antiquisation’, because it considers that Alexander the Great and ancient Macedon are part of Hellenic culture. Bulgaria has been critical of the way in which the VMRO-DPMNE has claimed Bulgarian-Macedonian heroes as symbols in the pantheon of Macedonian nationalism. The international community, which had usually sympathized with Macedonia and judged Greece to be the irritant party in the naming dispute, has been disappointed with Macedonia’s government. At home, the opposition SDSM has opposed the Skopje 2014 project, while local academics have decried it as nationalist, historicist kitsch. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have also voiced concern with the government’s project, which they viewed as an attempt to ram ‘Macedonism’ down their throats and assimilate them into a constructed Macedonian nation. There were disputes between Albanians and the government over the construction of churches, with Albanians demanding construction of mosques in exchange. To accommodate their concerns, Skopje 2014 included statues of Mother Teresa and Skanderbeg.
The opposition has sounded the alarm over an alleged loss of media freedom. According to Freedom House’s 2013 report (which classifies Macedonia as ‘partly free’), the media faces political pressure and harassment. The most famous episode came in late 2010, when a private opposition TV channel owned by Velija Ramkovski, a business tycoon, was shut down and the owner arrested and subsequently sentenced for tax fraud. The government claimed that the arrest had nothing to do with the TV channel’s anti-government stance, while the opposition claimed that it represented a decline in media freedom under the VMRO-DPMNE government. The EU has criticized the government for the little progress made on issues of judicial independence, impartiality and competence.
President Gjorge Ivanov, elected in 2009, became the first President to seek reelection. Ivanov is fairly popular, although he is a very low-key and compliant ceremonial president who largely bows to Gruevski. Ivanov has been criticized for not taking a major role in foreign policy (although he boasted about having sat close to Obama in DC in 2012, he later admitted that he hadn’t talked to him, although he claimed that Obama winked at him). He has never used his right to block legislation, always toeing the party line. Ivanov’s renomination came as the VMRO-DPMNE refused to nominate a ‘consensus candidate’ like its coalition partner, the DUI, had demanded. The DUI supported no candidate and called on Albanians to boycott the first round of the election. The VMRO-DPMNE, however, acquiesced to the DUI’s request for snap legislative elections. Gruevski announced elections for the Parliament on March 1. However, many said that the dispute between the governing party and the DUI was staged or used as a pretext by the government to hold snap elections, in which it was confident of victory.
The government’s campaign focused on its popular nationalist stance in the naming dispute with Greece, but also on its economic record (emphasizing lower unemployment, low debt) and promised lower VAT in many sectors, no tax increases and tax advantages for businesses which take on new employees.
Defeated in every election since 2006, the opposition SDSM, a moderate and effectively centrist ‘social democratic’ party with liberal stances on minority issues and the naming dispute, has continued to struggle. It has been dogged by poor leadership and low credibility – despite the many issues faced by the country which might hurt the government, the opposition SDSM, which was in power between 2002 and 2006, dealt with the same problems and was unable to fix them. The SDSM has led an energetic and uncompromising opposition to the government, accusing it of authoritarianism and creating a state of fear, but its behaviour was little help to the party’s sagging fortunes. In 2013, the SDSM boycotted Parliament after police had expelled rowdy opposition MPs who had tried to block passage of the 2013 budget. The SDSM’s boycott, protests against the government and threats to boycott the spring 2013 local elections precipitated a major political crisis, which was only resolved by EU mediation. The SDSM was once again defeated in a landslide by the VMRO-DPMNE in last year’s local election, although it gained the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. Late last year, the SDSM mayor of Strumica, Zoran Zaev, replaced Crvenkovski as party leader. The party’s presidential candidate was university professor Stevo Pendarovski.
The opposition accuses the government of having made the country dependent on foreign loans, increasing inequalities and disrespecting the rule of law. Gruevski called the opposition’s promises unreasonable, accusing them of either lying or being ignorant. Zaev has tried to pin corruption scandals on governing politicians, notably allegations of 1.5 million bribe to Gruevski for expediting the sale of a Macedonian bank to a Serbian businessman in 2003-4.
The two main Albanian parties, the DUI and the DPA, do not appear to be divided by ideological differences. The DUI, founded by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, was originally a more radical party whose platform focused on the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement, but it has been a government partner since 2008. The DPA has accused the DUI of backtracking on its tough stance in favour of minority rights and of being increasingly marginalized in Gruevski’s government. After the 2011 election, the DUI obtained the EU integration but also the defense portfolio, and to respond to the DPA’s criticisms that it hadn’t been doing enough for Albanian rights, the DUI took various symbolic steps – in 2012, the defense minister laid a wreath on a monument honouring Albanian guerrillas in the 2001 conflict, and the DUI unsuccessfully opposed a government bill to extend social benefits to members of the Macedonian armed forces in the 2001 conflict. The DUI has sometimes been uneasy with the government, pressing it to resolve the name dispute to facilitate EU and NATO membership.
The DPA, traditionally the more moderate party and the VMRO-DPMNE’s Albanian partner, has been in opposition since 2008. While the DUI was angry at having been excluded from Gruevski’s government in 2006, the DPA became increasingly angry at what it correctly perceived as the VMRO-DPMNE’s aims to dump it in favour of the DUI, which it did after the 2008 election. Led by Menduh Thaçi, the DPA has been very critical of both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI. It supported a new agreement between Macedonians and Albanians, with the creation of a bicameral legislature and a new administrative map of the country. The DPA, unlike the DUI, did not boycott the first round of the presidential election, nominating Iljaz Halimi.
Other Albanian parties include the National Democratic Revival (NDP/RDK), a party founded in 2011 which took 2 seats in that year’s legislative election. It is the local branch of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Kosovo’s right-wing opposition party.
The Citizen Option for Macedonia (Grajanska Optsiya za Makedoniya, GROM) is a new party founded in 2013 by Stevco Jakimovski, the mayor of Karpos, who quit the SDSM after opposing the party’s plans to boycott the local elections. The GROM is a vaguely centrist party, which claims to be open to all ethnic groups.
President (first round, April 13)
Turnout was 48.86%, therefore no candidate was elected in the first round even if Ivanov won over 50%.
Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 51.69%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 37.51%
Iljaz Halimi (DPA) 4.48%
Zoran Popovski (GROM) 3.61%
President (second round)
Turnout was 54.36%, validating the election.
Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 55.28%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 41.14%
Turnout was 62.96%.
VMRO-DPMNE and allies 42.97% (+3.99%) winning 61 seats (+5)
SDSM and allies 25.34% (-7.44%) winning 34 seats (-8)
DUI 13.71% (+3.47%) winning 19 seats (+4)
DPA 5.92% (+0.02%) winning 7 seats (-1)
GROM 2.82% (+2.82%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NDP 1.59% (-1.08%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VMRO-NP 1.5% (-1.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.78% (-4.13%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The VMRO-DPMNE and President Ivanov were both reelected with comfortable majorities (with a fourth term in office for PM Gruevski), while the opposition SDSM suffered substantial losses in the parliamentary election.
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev immediately alleged serious violations and claimed that the elections had been stolen by the government. The opposition claimed that there was massive vote buying and irregularities on the voter roll. The police and the state electoral commission both said that the election was calm with only minor irregularities reported, while the VMRO-DPMNE claimed that the opposition had concocted reports of irregularities from NGOs as an ‘alibi’ for their poor electoral result and decried the opposition’s decision to ‘negate the will of the country’ and work against national interests.
The opposition and domestic NGOs claimed that they had registered cases of family voting, political propaganda at polling stations, busing of voters and vote buying by the VMRO-DPMNE. In the 2013 local elections, there had also been major concerns over the voter roll, which is suspiciously large, with claims of 30-50 people being registered at the same address. It is also said that the rolls include dead people, people who have emigrated and non-citizens (in 2013, there was a publicized case of ethnic Macedonians from an Albanian village being registered in Skopje-Centar). The OSCE’s reports in 2011 and 2013 said that the ruling party was using state resources for electoral benefit and pressured civil servants to provide ‘lists’ of reliable voters. The media is also biased in favour of the government.
The SDSM has decided that it will refuse to take its seats in the Parliament, and it may call for protests. It wants a technocratic national unity government and new elections..
The OSCE’s report stated that the elections were “efficiently administered” and candidates were free to campaign without obstruction. However, it said that “the campaign of the governing party did not adequately separate its party and state activities” and was concerned of systematic media bias in favour of the government and the ruling party. Some concerns over the voter roll were still expressed, notably with reports of many voters registered at the same address. The voter rolls have 1.78 million registered voters, for a population of 2.06 million. On election day, election observers from the OSCE evaluated the process as good or very good in 96% of their observations. While there were significant problems and issues with the electoral process, and the VMRO-DPMNE merged activities of the party and the state to its electoral advantage, a good chunk of the SDSM’s post-electoral behaviour is likely stemming from their inability to accept responsibility for their defeat.
With 61 seats, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE fell just one seat short of an absolute majority. Gruevski had asked ethnic Macedonian voters to give him 62 seats, so that nobody (read: the DUI) could ‘blackmail’ them. During the campaign, the VMRO-DPMNE played on anti-Albanian and nationalist sentiment, notably attacking the DUI’s ‘illogical demands’ (allegedly extending official use of Albanian throughout Macedonia). The governing party also manipulated fears and cultivated a ‘siege mentality’, describing Macedonia as surrounded by enemies (Albania, Kosovo, Greece and Bulgaria). The VMRO-DPMNE, in government, has managed a very coherent and well-managed communication effort, with government advertising in the media, regular press conferences, ministerial visits, statements promoting implemented projects and successes, tailor-made policies to attract different demographics and populist promises (this year: writing off poorer people’s electricity bills, heating bills and unpaid bank loans). As the OSCE reported, the VMRO-DPMNE was also the beneficiary of the uneven playing field and media bias. In the OSCE observations, 40 hours of paid political advertising on private TV channels were purchased by the VMRO-DPMNE or Ivanov, against only 3.3 hours for the SDSM and their candidate (the GROM and DUI had more advertising time than the SDSM). According to official financial reports, the VMRO-DPMNE reported revenues of $1.18 million and expenditures of $987k, while the SDSM reported revenues of approximately $181,000 and expenditures of $180,600. Ivanov also had a huge financial advantage over Pendarovski (SDSM). Finally, by calling early elections, the VMRO-DPMNE once again took the SDSM unprepared, the opposition party lacking sufficient time to complete its rebranding, and Gruevski was not hurt by the bribery allegations against him.
The DUI had sought to win 25 seats, which would have represented a massive gain of 10 seats from the last election, but they ended up with 19 seats, nevertheless a significant gain of 3.5% and 4 seats. Although both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI played to their ethnic bases’ nationalism sentiments in a very ethnically-polarized campaign, the relations between the two parties appear to be fairly good behind the tough nationalist façade and it is very likely that they will continue to form a coalition government.
In the presidential election, VMRO-DPMNE incumbent Gjorge Ivanov was easily reelected with 55.3% against 41.1% for his SDSM opponent, the remaining votes cast being invalid. Turnout in the presidential race was 8.6% lower than in the simultaneous parliamentary election, because the DUI had renewed its call for a boycott in the second round. Officially, the DUI’s boycott of the presidential race was because they felt that no candidate could be a ‘consensual’ president uniting the divided country. In reality, as this article suggests, the DUI boycott was a tool to divert growing Albanian discontent (over the DUI’s extremely mediocre, to say the least, record in government) towards nationalism, and to prevent the SDSM’s Pendarovski from winning on the back of ethnic Albanian support. The article claimed that the DUI and VMRO-DPMNE were accomplices in a game of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic chauvinism and narrow ethnic parochialism (reminiscent of Malaysia’s BN coalition). Pendarovski, a young political outsider, and the SDSM, which does not resort to nationalist sentiments, could be seen as a threat by Ahmeti and the DUI.
In the 1999 presidential election, Albanian voters had made the difference in favour of the VMRO-DPMNE’s candidate over the SDSM candidate, who had led the first round. In 2004, SDSM candidate Branko Crvenkovski had won his best result in Albanian regions of the country. In 2009, Albanian voters had voted for their own candidates in the first round, but had mostly sat out the runoff, allowing Ivanov to defeat the SDSM in a landslide. A similar scenario repeated itself this year. Although Pendarovski won a few municipalities (almost all of which have an Albanian plurality or majority), turnout was low in these places – 5.3% in Lipkovo, 12.8% in Bogovinje, 18.2% in Arachinovo (where Pendarovski took 72.3%), 19.7% in Vrapchishte and 31.3% in Tetovo. Turnout had been just as low or even lower in the first round. The only Albanian candidate, the DPA’s Iljaz Halimi, won a handful of quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns (despite very low turnout, those who turned out were still Albanians) while Ivanov was able to place first in majority-Albanian towns with a significant Macedonian minority, such as Tetovo (which is 23.2% Macedonian). Turnout was also low, in both rounds, in the two municipalities with a Turkish majority, the one municipality of Skopje with a Roma majority and the one municipality with a Serbian minority.
In the parliamentary elections, turnout was significantly higher in the Albanian regions, although in the quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns, turnout remained significantly below the national average, usually landing in the 40-50% range (it was 49.7% in the 6th constituency, which has an Albanian majority and was won by the DUI). In Albanian towns, the DUI predominated in all municipalities, with the DPA and the small NDP proving to be the only other parties polling a significant amount of votes (although the VMRO-DPMNE did have some support in some towns). In Macedonian towns, the VMRO-DPMNE dominated, with the SDSM topping the poll only in the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. The VMRO-DPMNE had particularly strong results in Macedonian towns bordering Albanian towns. The DUI won the 97% Turkish town of Plasnica with 61% although turnout was 39.9%, while the VMRO-DPMNE won Centar-Zhupa (81% Turkish) with 48% on the back of 29% turnout. On 45% turnout, the VMRO-DPMNE won 58% in Shuto Orizari, which is majority Roma; it narrowly won (with 30.4% against 25.2% for the SDSM and 21.9% for the DUI) the multiethnic (47.3% Macedonian, 28.6% Serbian, 22.9% Albanian) town of Čučer-Sandevo.
The VMRO-DPMNE reelected for another term in office, emerging with a strengthened majority and a badly defeated opposition, it seems unlikely that much will change in Macedonia. A compromise in the naming dispute with Greece appears unlikely, given that both sides have intransigent positions and Gruevski’s government prefers nationalist provocation and rhetoric for electoral purposes. And as long as there is no agreement with Athens, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids will likely find themselves delayed as well.