Ominous indications of the electoral Autumn in the Balkans


MON, 18 SEP 2000

Skopje, September 13, 2000 - Incidents that have occurred in the first round of local elections in Macedonia, in which at least eight people were wounded, have disturbed the public and served as a signal to the international community that the true stability in the Balkans is still far and that the beginning of a series of elections in several Balkan countries is not encouraging.

Majority of international analyses dealt with the communal elections for 123 Mayors and the Mayor of Skoplje held on September 10, in the context of the entire series of elections that are being simultaneously held in a number of Balkan countries. At least a half of these electoral competitions are "terra incognita" for the international community: presidential, parliamentary and local elections in Serbia, parliamentary elections in Kosovo, as well as parliamentary elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Local elections in Macedonia and similar ones in Albania some twenty days later, were taken as an opportunity for the consolidation of fragile democracies of both countries, i.e. a chance to prove their worth in practice. No matter how routine these elections are considered, they have unavoidably been tied in with much more important elections in Kosovo, which will be held on October 28, under a watchful eye of the international community. For, the intention is to test whether the "system of connected vessels" is really so powerful, in view of the importance of the so called "Albanian political factor".

The State Electoral Commission did not publish final results of the first round of Sunday elections, leaving (customarily) enough space for various suspicion, especially those such as: this is again some hanky-panky business on the part of the authorities which are mishandling ballots. Irrespective of the doubts of the State Electoral Commission, the opposition coalition "For Macedonia Together" is celebrating the victory, while coalition partners from the Government are contesting that victory. The opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity, from the so called Albanian political camp, is literally "licking its wounds": seven of its activists have been wounded from fire arms. This will be the reason for this Party to declare its withdrawal from further elections and even from Parliament. The PDP officials blame the leadership and sympathisers of the rival Democratic Party of Albanians. A part of the public sides with the PDP.

With the same interest with which the public waited for the report of the State Electoral Commission, it expected the preliminary assessment of the mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The mission consisted of 130 monitors who carefully followed all that was happening there. At the time when OSCE announced that it would set up its monitoring mission, which was uncustomary as it usually doesn't follow elections on this level, some pro-government media, out of habit, carried angry observations that Macedonia has progressed in the mastering of democracy to such an extent that it is able to assess for itself whether the local elections are democratic or not.

The assessment which chief of the OSCE monitoring team, the American Ambassador Charles Magee, published on Monday shocked even the greatest optimists: "Local elections have not met with the international standards for democratic elections which are contained in the 1990 Copenhagen document on the holding of elections without violence and intimidation, in a democratic atmosphere, as well as on the protection of the secrecy of ballots". According to the findings of the OSCE mission "voting was carried out peacefully and without disturbances in the majority of communes. However, the overall atmosphere was tense, i.e. in some communes in the western parts of the country, serious security incidents have occurred and individuals, groups and sympathisers of individual political parties used fire arms". The report mentioned incidents in which four persons were wounded, as well as numerous examples of the breaking of voting boxes or boxes being filled with voting slips by one or several persons, of people voting for other people, of failure to check identity documents for the identification of voters, etc. The OSCE monitors stated that 24 voting places in the commune of Debar, where the first serious armed incident occurred, had been closed down.

The OSCE mission was of the opinion that during the pre-election campaign the media had provided the voters with a solid basis for the elections, but nevertheless reproached the state television for positive reporting about Government's activities.

Namely, the Macedonian Television devoted 44 percent of its information programme to Government's activities. The united opposition got only 8 percent of coverage in information programmes broadcast by the cameras of the main electronic media. The pro-government daily "Nova Makedonija" frequently carried negative reports about the activities of the opposition, while the daily in the Albanian language "Fakti" covered only the activities of the Democratic Party of Albanians, not once mentioning the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity. The Government applied discriminatory measure against certain media just before the elections because of their critical reporting about the Government. The OSCE mission recalled the blocking of the gyro-account of the daily "Makedonija denes" and weekly "Denes" because of unpaid taxes just ten days before the elections were due. Threats to the opposition TV "Kanal 5" were also mentioned.

The OSCE monitors noted a number of deficiencies in the existing electoral legislation: the State Electoral Commission was only carrying out the tasks strictly laid down by the Law which caused its ununiform application, while the lack of financial resources for the organisation of elections in communes was also observed. The Law did not clearly stipulate whether simple or absolute majority was needed for the election of mayors in the possible second electoral round, rules on the representation in electoral bodies were also insufficiently clear, belated training of members of electoral commissions was also noticed, the State Electoral Commission issued basic instructions only to lower-instance bodies. The OSCE monitors mentioned six VMRO-DPMNE delegates changing sides and joining the newly formed VMRO-VMRO as one of the events which contributed to the creation of tense atmosphere.

The Council of Europe also sent its monitoring team. Their report is no better. In their observations, monitors of the Council of Europe added several new items to the list of objections: they pointed to the "family voting", i.e. when one member of the family voted for all other members. Proceeding from the fact that a large number of invalid voting slips was registered, monitors of the Council of Europe stated that the voters were inadequately informed on the electoral process.

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia addressed the public with its critical report. Upon the publication of the findings of international monitoring missions, spokesmen of the Government coalition partners VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Alternative - refused to give any comment explaining that they had not seen the report. The Democratic Party of Albanians and its leader Arben Xhaferi were visibly embarrassed.

Political analysts mostly agree that actually nothing new had happened and that the international monitors "have reinvented the wheel": none of the elections held to date could boast of having been excessively democratic. They say, that the international community itself has given a significant contribution to that. Let us remind that at presidential and parliamentary elections back in 1994, the international community had benevolently followed the obvious rigging of results and that the contestable winners had received congratulations from all over the world. At the time of last year's presidential elections, the European Union first spoke harshly about the way in which Boris Trajkovski was elected chief of state; later on these assessments were softened.

The Party for Democratic Prosperity which has fell victim to the Sunday elections (but not only there), sent appeals to the OSCE representatives before the elections asking them to plead with the members of the Government coalition not to allow any violence. However, an impression remained that these warnings were not taken too seriously. In an "back-dated" statement to state television, Ambassador Magee had quite leisurely predicted that "minor incident happen at all elections". Nevertheless, it turned out that the incidents were not minor, after all.

After international monitors had published their preliminary report, the international diplomacy tried to straighten things out. Diplomats accredited to Skoplje tried to (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) establish contact with Josif Lukovski, President of the State Electoral Commission. But, his busy schedule was such that the foreigners had to send him a public request through the most popular news show of the private A-1 TV asking for his cooperation.

Imer Imeri, leader of the Party for Democratic Prosperity, met with the American Ambassador and his associates with Ambassadors of other Western countries in Skoplje. Imeri also talked to President of the Republic Boris Trajkovski, who conveyed the concern of foreign diplomats who had contacted him. If the situation were not so serious someone could ironically observe that Trajkovski was not the right man for peace-making efforts since he won his position by using the same technology which was applied on Sunday.

If the international community expected Sunday elections to be only an introduction to a successful autumn electoral series in the Balkans, the first indications are not encouraging. Quite contrary. Precisely what everyone feared, has happened: the leading Albanian party did not demonstrate the level of democratic quality which would be acceptable for the international community. Only subsequent analyses will show whether the events in the neighbourhood, in Kosovo, had influenced such DPA behaviour. The more so as it is common knowledge here that DPA leaders and certain Albanian frontmen, whose behaviour the international community considers to be unpredictable, are on very good terms.

It's quite another question whether the international community will be willing to continue to turn a blind eye to the faults of the current Government coalition as a whole. Last year's presidential elections served as the "master's reprimand". Another faux pas at the local elections could be the last straw.

Original article