Political Panorama of Macedonia1999 - The Year Between (Two) Elections
TUE, 04 JAN 2000
In just a year much has happened in Macedonia: the people voted in favour of changes in parliamentary elections, the new government had just taken over power when it was faced with the presence of about 40 thousand NATO soldiers on its territory, then came Kosovo and the crisis with refugees, after elections that raised a lot of doubt the second pluralist president of the state was elected, and in just 13 months the composition of the government suffered great changes while it was threatened to fall apart all the time...
AIM Skopje, 27 December, 1999
In the end of 1998, winners in parliamentary elections - Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) - did not bother to conceal surprise that they had triumphed in the struggle for power. After 6 or 8 years (depending on whether its time in power will be counted in respect to Kiro Gligorov or not) the Social Democratic League of Macedonia (SDSM) seemed to find it hard to believe that the electorate of Macedonia had decided to vote in accordance with the election motto of the opposition: "For Changes". The surprise of the winners was not unfounded - the people voted more against SDSM and its fruitless and arrogant rule than in favour of the platform of the new government coalition, although to be perfectly honest, during the campaign VMRO-DPMNE spoke only about economic issues, carefully avoiding the use of interethnic relations in winning votes, contrary to those who lost power and who wanted to bet on the card of tensions primarily between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, according to the recipe which was in a way the motto of the rule of SDSM coalition. This undoubtedly affected the choice of the voters.
Winners of the parliamentary elections, partly on their own and partly according to suggestions of the West, although they had no need for it (they had a comfortable majority in the parliament) decided to offer the Democratic Party of the Albanians (DPA) of Arben Xhaferi to participate in the government. Acceptance of the offer brought to what from this time distance (if one year can be considered to be a time distance at all) may be said to be the main gain of the parliamentary elections of the end of 1998. Former revolutionary Macedonian nationalists and extremist ethnic Albanians (definitely?) buried political radicalism on ethnic grounds. The government of Ljubco Georgievski was elected in the end of November 1998, and already in the interregnum it had to initial what the previous government had silently accepted. By that time, soldiers of NATO, at first as forces for implementation of the agreement on Kosovo from Rambouillet, and later with the mandate of KFOR were already in Macedonia. In the last days of its rule, the defeated SDSM refused to ratify what it had done before without any second thought - in the wish to join the European Union and NATO as soon as possible - to accept all their demands without reservations.
The new (confused) government signed a "loose" agreement on the presence of NATO soldiers on its territory, but then met with criticism of the new opposition because of their legally undefined status. Although they founded their election promises on specific economic issues, they were forced to deal with a major crisis in the region which postponed their economic plans for some time in the future.
Then came the crisis of Kosovo with its full unexpected might. The new government naively anticipated that it would be able, or would have to receive only 20 thousand refugees and banished persons, but then in the course of 11 weeks it lived to see 18 times more Kosovars majority of whom were "humanely accommodated" (with ethnic Albanian families), but there were also the "inhabitants" of the biggest tent cities in the world such as Stenkovac No.1, No.2… Although it had done everything that was in its power, the coalition government of the Macedonians and the Albanians was named the culprit for the notorious developments in Blace, for unresourcefulness of UNHCR and various humanitarian and nongovernmental organisations which were here trying to help. The state took on all the obligations, and of the much that had been promised it little did it get to this day.
Independently of whether it is the result of good fortune or skill of the government, Macedonia came out of the Kosovo crisis as a moral winner: the war did not spill over its border, nor did it disturb the "sensitive interethnic balance of its population" by possible remaining of the Kosovars on its territory. It is not insignificant to mention that during all that time the opposition, primarily SDSM and the Socialists, persistently spread negative feelings about the presence of NATO soldiers on Macedonian territory, the intervention of the Alliance against FRY and the presence of the banished and refugees from Kosovo. There were demonstrations like the ones in which the American embassy was demolished, and there were even quite a few (terrorist) attacks on members of NATO in Macedonia.
The crisis of Kosovo left its mark on the first months of rule of the new government. On the one hand, it was forced to deal with the problem which made its ultra-optimistic economic promises on what it would do in its first hundred days completely irrelevant. On the other hand, this crisis marked the beginning of the inter-government coalition crisis. During the exodus of the Kosovars through Macedonia, because of the developments on Blace border crossing, the ethnic Albanian coalition partner almost left the government.
After the sudden settlement of the crisis and the quick departure of the Kosovars and the engagement of Macedonian enterprises in reconstruction of Kosovo, the impression was that instead to begin carrying out its promises from the time of the election campaign (its economic platform), Macedonian government was busy resolving relations inside the ruling coalition. There are at least two reasons for that. The first is recognition of the Republic of China-Taiwan (before the Kosovo crisis) as the conjurer’s wand that would bring economic prosperity to Macedonia. The ruling VMRO-DPMNE first readily accepted the promised one billion dollars which were expected to arrive as a new investment in one or a couple of years, and then due to the slow inflow of the dollars, it strained relations with DA and its leader Vasil Tupurkovski. After the parliamentary triumph of the coalition "For Changes", Ljubco Georgievski himself declared that his party had at the time already, a whole year before presidential elections, offered Vasil Tupurkovski to be the common presidential candidate which he turned down with the statement that it was too early to speak about it. The introduction into the coalition quarrel, in which DPA remained neutral to the end, was the information that in the very first days in power, members of Tupurkovski’s Democratic Alternative were caught as protagonists of scandals of "sticky hands": minister of the economy Zanko Cado managed to allocate 22 million German marks to the sinking Almako Bank one of the owners of which was Slobodan Casule, the current spokesman of DA who had left the leading post of the newspaper and publishing company Nova Makedonija with the "tail" of a contract on purchase of printing paper…
All this was the reason for each of the three government coalition partners to run in the presidential elections with its own candidate. Before the end of the second round of presidential elections this resulted in the ultimatum of DA that it would leave the coalition if its platform on further cooperation was not accepted. First VMRO-DPMNE and DPA assessed this as unacceptable and then Georgievski and Tupurkovski negotiated and agreed that all further discussions should be left until after the end of presidential elections.
In the end came the "happy end" when all three parties agreed to remain in the coalition. Although there were explosive situations, such as the developments concerning privatisation of the Zletovo metal plant. Prime minister Georgievski made it public that civil servants and all other workers could go on 10-day leave for Christmas and the New Year in order to enter comfortably the new millennium. Then he made public the new composition of his government. The government had resigned, so the prime minister practically made a new one.
Macedonia which has spent this year practically in the gap between parliamentary and presidential elections, is faced with new challenges: two ministers (of finance and internal affairs) who had firmly held their departments in their hands are leaving their posts; the new law on local self-administration should be passed in connection with the new local elections; reconstruction of the government according to the demand of the IMF and the World Bank that the administration needed to be reformed and the number of civil servants reduced by half, but also making of new arrangements with them caused by unresolved questions of companies which made great losses and many others inside the state.
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