ISO RUSILocal elections Macedonia – 'A lost cause'
SAT, 09 SEP 2000
Skopje, September 6, 2000 - As September 10 is approaching, the day when the first circle of local elections will take place in Macedonia, it is becoming more evident that the election of mayors and 1720 councilmen in 123 municipalities is in fact the least important affair the citizens will declare themselves about. The politicians believe that some other things are much more valuable. What causes concern are the forecasts according to which Macedonia will face an even more dangerous crisis than the one caused by the Kosovo crisis last year.
Just a couple of days before the first round of local elections in Macedonia it is clear that political parties and politicians who will participate are working for “a lost cause” in running for mayors and members of councils in Macedonian municipalities. According to Macedonian legislature, local self-administration has very narrow jurisdiction. Almost all important issues, even town-planning, issuing of construction permits and similar, are concentrated in regional offices of ministries. Local officials – mayors and municipal councilmen – are in charge only of municipal services, waterworks, sewage, parks… However, in such circumstances, previous local elections held in 1990 and 1996 were an opportunity for political parties to test their strength against each other. This time things were turned upside-down.
Although the last days of the election campaign are passing by, it is quite rarely possible to see candidates for mayors and members of councils and parties they come from presenting in public their stands concerning problems in places they wish to be elected to lead. Much more general topics are in circulation, much more important issues, local elections are just the immediate cause for severe confrontations among parties.
At first the date of local elections was controversial. According to provisions of the law passed by previous parliament and former government, the elections must take place at the most 90 and at least 60 days before the expiry of the term in office of the elected municipal officials. The only possibilities were either September 10 or 19. Neither of these dates were acceptable for the opposition, because pursuant the same law the campaign lasts 30 days, which meant that it should have taken place during summer vacations. Although even amendment of the said law was discussed, the problem was resolved by chairman of the assembly Savo Klimovski who scheduled the first round of the elections for September 10. Local elections in Macedonia are organised according to two election models. The proportional in which the voters vote for the lists of candidates of political parties for municipal councilmen, which will take place and be completed on September 10, and the majority system which refers to election of mayors. A mayor may be elected in the first round if at least half of the voters listed in election register come to the polls, and a candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the votes of those who have voted. Since in almost all the cities there are as a rule between five and ten candidates, it is obvious that the elections will have a second round two weeks later. Since irregularities and incidents are possible in some of the electoral districts, local elections may last even longer.
What is this shifted focus with which majority of participants have approached these elections? The opposition parties – Social Democratic League (SDSM) and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), each on its own and at the same time, proposed a joint appearance of the opposition in local elections. A block “For Macedonia” was founded which was joined by the Socialists (SP) and small elitist League for Democracy (LD). The platform around which they united is in fact using local elections to change the government and schedule early parliamentary elections. United opposition has started the campaign with the message “These are not ordinary elections, this is a referendum” in the belief that discontent of Macedonian voters with the two-year long work of the ruling coalition (VMRO-DPMNE, Democratic Alternative and Democratic Party of the Albanians) should be channeled through local elections into a demand for departure of the impotent, catastrophically bad etc. government and scheduling new parliamentary elections.
This option was near to the heart of certain other parties such as the Liberals (who seceded from LDP), minor parties such as the united left (four communist parties with different names), certain ethnic parties of the Serbs, the Turks, the Romanies, the Egyptians…, but also the newly created ones such as the Democratic League or the newest VMRO (True Macedonian Reformist Option or VMRO-VMRO).
The united opposition launched an intensive campaign from the first day. They have organised parallel discussions, meetings with the citizens, rallies in the open and in large halls. The present administration is sharply attacked; it is accused of selling national interests, involvement in organised crime and corruption, along with what was used during the campaign for parliamentary and presidential elections (1998 and 1999) – pro-Bulgarian orientation of VMRO-DPMNE, its status of a hostage in relation to the Albanian DPA, which leads to federalisation and dissolution of the state.
Contrary to the quick rate, with the inevitably increasing intensity of accusations which have reached the already known spicy stories and personal insults, the regime has launched a relaxed, slow campaign, although its rating has undoubtedly dropped. Absence of the leader of DA, Vasil Tupurkovski has reduced the appearances of the ruling coalition to the visits of the prime minister and putting facilities in operation or laying the corner stones of various facilities.
The reaction of Ljubco Georgievski to defection of six deputies of VMRO-DPMNE and the announcement that another ten of its parliamentarians had signed application forms and that another seven of them were considering the possibility of joining VMRO-DPMNE, was the statement that he would propose scheduling of early parliamentary elections by the end of the year if the coalition VMRO-DPMNE and DA wins 10 per cent less votes than the united opposition in local elections. If the figure of turncoats reaches 12, the fall of the government is almost certain, with two possible outcomes: formation of a new government as a result of a new coalition in the parliament or parliamentary elections. The united opposition bases its messages on promises of the prime minister – “The regime is counting per cents, the people are counting the days of the regime”, “Fight for early parliamentary elections” and similar and it makes slightly frantic moves (head of their headquarters Vlado Buckovski declares “We will wipe them out”).
On the other hand, with his statement, Georgievski has actually accepted that the local elections will have the nature of a referendum, but this was not accepted with understanding by his coalition partners. DPA and DA believe that a common decision must be reached on such issues, they also believe that early parliamentary elections may endanger stability of the state, damage its international position. In September negotiations should end on the agreement with EU on cooperation and association, and its signing should take place by the end of the year at the latest, agreements were reached with IMF and the World Bank after a two-year interruption, which during the month of November are expected to be formally adopted by boards of these international financial institutions, which significant aid of certain European countries depends on. Therefore, even if the regime wins 10 per cent less votes and the prime minister keeps his promise and proposes to the parliament to schedule early elections by the end of the year, it will be difficult to collect 61 votes needed for the parliament to dissolve itself, which according to Macedonian Constitution is the only possibility of scheduling early elections. If this happens, nervous and impatient opposition certainly will not rest. Branko Crvenkovski has already announced the possibility of SDSM withdrawing from the institutions of the system, and use of other methods of operation, if they assess that they were “cheated” by a forgery or broken promises.
Developments in VMRO-DPMNE and intensive campaign of the opposition was marked by the ruling coalition as an attempt to re-introduce pro-Serbian options close to Slobodan Milosevic and the methods used in former Yugoslavia, as an attempt to interrupt democratic political processes, corrupt the relaxed inter-ethnic relations. Populist charge which is evident in the efforts of the opposition to use all possibilities to overturn the present government, certain statements from the ranks of opposition parties and possible conflicts which intend to turn things back, but also certain quite unnecessary moves of government institutions, in fact their bad timing, have raised the temperature on Macedonian political scene and among the population to the boiling point. Auditing services and other financial state institutions have blocked the account of the editor of Makedonija denes daily and Denes weekly, demolition of the construction of TV Channel 5 was announced, certain buildings the investor of construction of which is the head of Skopje branch of SDSM and publisher of Start weekly… all this is estimated as an attack against the media which are not “gentle” to the regime and the people who are their opponents.
A real war is waged by the greatest Albanian parties, DPA and Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), with numerous mutual accusations, qualifications, use of just opened police files; almost primitive political clashes are reflected on them from the conflicts between Macedonian parties of the regime and the opposition. DPA which is one of the ruling parties has already called PDP a hanger-on of the pro-Serbian SDSM. And in the latest appearances of representatives of DPA it is possible to see that their stands have become more radical.
The main stated goals of DPA (in local elections!) are independent Kosovo (which is no novelty in Albanian political block, but it directly harms coalition partners VMRO-DPMNE and DA and assists SDSM in its declarations on division of Macedonia and presence of para-military units from Kosovo on Macedonian territory), second, they demand the status of a nation in the Constitution (although concerning the solution of the problem of university education in Albania, one of the main defensive arguments in favour of impossibility of legalisation of Tetovo University was mentioning of impossibility of amending the Constitution) and the third, it demands union of the Albanians in the region with Europe (which is interpreted by the opposition as secession of the Albanians, division of the state and similar). Their opponents in PDP reply with messages that in these elections they will not withdraw under threat of force by DPA, that they will respond by force to the attempts of abuse and forgery. To put it mildly, all this together hints at a nervous course of local elections. Since there have always been incidents in previous elections, there is fear that they might acquire uncontrollable proportions, maybe even of major incidents.
In these local elections, like never before, monitoring will be very intensive: OSCE will have 200 of its monitors, the embassies at least 100, local non-governmental organisations assisted by foreign donors at least 1500 monitors, and party monitors should also be added to these figures. On the one hand, it will be difficult to try to do anything that is not in compliance with the prescribed election process, and on the other, possibilities of a conflict have increased. The number is increasing of foreign and local analysts who claim that Macedonia is facing a crisis and uncertainty greater even than the Kosovo crisis which was proclaimed to be the greatest risk for peace, but also for the future of Macedonia.