VALENTIN NESOVSKIElectoral race in the middle of the Summer
FRI, 04 AUG 2000
Skopje, July 11, 2000 - Elections for 120 Macedonian communes will be held on September 10. That is the decision of the President of the Macedonian Parliament, Savo Klimovski, after a series of complications regarding the timing of elections. Major misunderstanding was caused by an unfortunate provision of the Law on Local Elections, adopted under the previous rule of Social-Democratic Alliance (SDSM), according to which "regular elections for Council members and Mayors should be held every four years at the same time in all communes, 90 days, at the earliest, and 60 days, at the latest, before the expiry of the four-year mandate". For this reason, some fifteen days before he signed the decree on calling the elections, Klimovski made it known that they may be held on September 10 or 17.
This started an avalanche of protests among political parties, because of the inadequate date as they would be forced to start a camping during summer when everyone is on vacation - in tourist resorts in Turkey, Greece, Cyprus or in the country. Namely, the Law on Local Elections envisages that the campaign may start 30 days before the voting date, at most, which means August 10. Legal experts say that the legislators has made a mistake because the provision about "90 days, at the earliest, and 60 days, at the latest" implies that the next 2004 elections will be held in August, and those in 2008 in July, and so on.
Realising the mistake, Justice Minister Dzevet Nasufi stated that this provision would be changed in order to make it possible for "the elections to be held within 90 days before the expiry of the municipal authorities' mandate". Rumour has it that the Government also considered this problem, but the law was not changed and Klimovski called the elections.
All parties reacted in the same way. Their spokesmen claimed that they were ready for the elections, and that the timing was within the limits of the law, but the opposition parties, primarily SDSM, Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) reacted negatively to the timing and to the cancelling of legal changes and, consequently, of the possibility of choosing a more reasonable date. SDSM and LDP even accused the authorities of having the intention to rig the elections because they have scheduled them for a date which is convenient for the authorities.
The explanation was that the opposition was thus deprived of the possibility to launch a real campaign, and that the authorities wanted to cover up their loss of popularity (registered in Brima-Galup's public opinion surveys, which showed that VMRO-DPMNE's rating has dropped by half compared to SDSM) and escape the popular resentment which could be expressed at mass-scale rallies. The current Mayor Risto Penov, leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party and candidate of the opposition bloc SDS, LDP and SP said to the reporter of the daily "Makedonija Denes" that he was only fearing an attempted fraud. This forty-year old favourite for the position of the Mayor of Skoplje, which would be his second term, said that electoral rigging, such as the one seen at presidential elections, could be easily repeated.
"Fortunately, amendments to the electoral law in respect to electoral commissions, announced by the Government, have been decided against as they would mean the rigging of elections. Now attempts will be made at manipulating and exerting pressure on various nationalities. Apart from that, September 10, was chosen because it is a weekend when people would be away still celebrating the national holiday September 8, and, thus, would not be able to vote. Low turnout only suits the parties in power", said Penov. A similar thesis was advanced by Djordji Spasov from the opposition SDSM, for a Skopje TV station. For the time being, the authorities have not reacted to these claims, while delegates from he ruling parties mostly respond with a brief comment: "The conditions are the same for them, as well as for us!"
Now, before the coming elections, the political scene is divided into three blocs. VMRO-DPMNE (party of the Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski) and the Democratic Alternative of Vasil Tupurkovski, which is now sharing the state power with Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians, have announced that they would form a coalition for the local elections. The second bloc of Macedonian parties includes the opposition SDSM of former Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, Risto Penov's LDP and the Socialist Party of Ljubisav Ivanov. For the time being, the third bloc in still in its "infancy", but is in the horizon. That bloc will, most probably, include the two leading parties of Albanians in Macedonia - DPA and PDP, which are opposed in regard to the question of Tetovo University. At the celebration of the anniversary of the uniting of PDPA and NDP into DPA, Arben Xhaferi said that negotiations were underway with PDP, a party which at that moment had lower rating among the Albanians, but more deputies in Parliament.
The amalgamation of these parties, more precisely, the formation of such election coalition (i.e. the sharing the cake), will eliminate all confrontations, but, according to some analysis, will also signify the assimilation of PDP into DPA. A number of other newly-formed parties will join the race for local elections: the Democratic Alliance of the former Minister of the Interior Pavle Trojanov, VMRO of Boris Zmejkovski, founder of VMRO-DPMNE and this Party's former Secretary, as well as several parties of Romanies and Turks, which will wage battles in less populated areas.
Until September 10, no major turbulences and changes of this electoral picture are expected, except only for DS to get closer to the opposition bloc. According to the Macedonian laws, the local elections will be organised in two electoral rounds. The second one should be held 14 days after the first.
In order to become a Mayor in the first round, a candidate must secure the majority of votes of voters who turned out at polling places, if more than a half of the total electorate turns out. If that is not the case, then candidates who exceed the 10 percent limit, i.e. who win at least 10 percent of the total number of votes of electors who come to polling places to cast their ballot get into the second round. According to experience from previous local elections the latter will happen in the capital, the place which is considered prestigious as one third of the total population of Macedonia lives there. Namely, at the last elections as many as four candidates competed in the second round.
For the time being, two candidates are known for the capital's Mayor - the current Mayor Risto Penov, who has behind him the opposition coalition, and the former town's Prime Minister, businessman Ljubco Nikolovski - Fufo, who will be running as an independent candidate. Those well-versed say that he will have VMRO-DPMNE behind him. For the time being, the VMRO-DPMNE coalition has not yet nominated its candidate, but there are speculations that in Skoplje they will have just a formal candidate, while their true candidate will be Nikolovski. It is assumed that such combinations have been made because Nikolovski would be able to attract the undecided voters and when VMRO-DPMNE sympathisers and members are added, together with the votes of Romanies, that would secure Nikolovski a certain victory despite Penov's popularity.