Conservatives win Macedonian dual election

Yesterday 27 April, dual elections were held in Macedonia. The country went to the ballot boxes for the second round of the presidential elections and early parliamentary elections. The ruling conservative coalition, ‘For better Macedonia’ (VMRO-DPMNE and DUI), claims victory as the opposition refuses to accept the results due to irregularities. The preliminary results suggest the ruling coalition retains a government majority.

The State Elections Committee (SEC) announced preliminary election results, proclaiming conservative  VMRO-DPMNE presidential candidate Gjorge Ivanov as the winner, landing him a second term in office. Ivanov left opposition rival, social democratic SDSM candidate Stevo Pendarovski, far behind. With 43 percent of the votes, the VMRO-DPMNE also won the parliamentary elections. Ethnic Albanian coalition partner DUI won 14 percent of the votes landing the current ruling coalition a comfortable parliamentary majority. The center left opposition coalition, headed by the social democratic SDSM, gained 25 percent of the votes.

The parliamentary elections are considered to be the most important of the two as they determine who becomes the most powerful person in the country, the prime minister. The office of the president is largely ceremonial and critics claim president Ivanov is but a puppet of the powerful VMRO-DPMNE Prime Minister Nikoa Gruevski. The outgoing ruling coalition fell after DUI stepped out of government. Gruevski then held talks with another ethnic Albanian party, which is needed to form a government, the Albanian Democratic Party (PDSH) of Menduh Thaci. It is expected that a new government will be announced in the coming days.

Irregularities

Shortly after the polls closed SDSM leader Zoran Zaev accused incumbent VMRO-DPMNE Prime Minister Gruevski of extortion, blackmail and massive buying of votes. Zaev said: "A few minutes after the polls closed, I'm here to say that SDSM and our opposition coalition will not recognize the election process, neither the presidential nor the parliamentary.” VMRO-DPMNE denied all accusations. Antonio Milosovski, a senior VMRO-DPMNE official said: “These have been the most peaceful elections so far […] although there were attempts by the opposition to show these elections as inefficient, the people did not allow that, they did not allow to be taken in by the manipulative scenarios from the opposition”.

Opposition parties accuse Gruevski of creeping authoritarianism and corruption, foreign diplomats claim there are concerns about media freedom and political pressure on journalists. Gruevski said complaints of authoritarianism come from opposition parties that lack a concrete political program to unseat him. Amidst accusations of authoritarianism, Gruevski is praised for his handling of tensions between Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. A political uprising of the Albanians in 2001, demanding more political rights, brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Domestic organizations monitoring the elections said that they noticed irregularities at several polling stations, but without significant effects. The non-governmental organization ‘CIVIL’ stated that its observers had observed irregularities such as purchase of votes and family voting. International observers of the OSCE/ODHIR, the largest monitor in the country, has yet to release a statement.

Domestic problems

Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries and faces a lot of difficulties, amongst other things an unemployment raid of 28 percent. Unlike most Balkan countries, The Gruevski government has been able to achieve economic growth and a low public debt. Foreign investments are also on the rise, but social and ethnic tensions remain. Also since Gruevski assumed office as prime minister, Macedonia’s bid to join the European Union and NATO has been frozen due to disputes with neighboring Greece over Macedonia’s name.

In 2005 Macedonia became an official candidate for EU-membership, but progress has remained slow. A new government will have to tackle these problems. But seeing the only viable option for a government coalition is a continuation of the ruling one, no significant changes are expected.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Independent Balkan News Agency, Kurir I, Kurir II, Reuters.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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