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Macedonia in limbo

Daniel Serwer

December 20, 2016



Macedonia’s December 11 election has left the country in precarious limbo while the State Election Commission decides several appeals. Initial results suggest the former Macedonian ruling party (VMRO-DPMNE) won a plurality but lost seats and now leads at best by only two. Its main opposition (SDSM), which has publicized illegal government-initiated wire taps revealing malfeasance, gained both votes and seats. The main Albanian coalition governing partner (DUI) lost votes and seats, mainly to a new political movement (Besa).

The prospect of losing power has excited former Prime Minister Gruevski to paroxysms against the international community, which he blames for his electoral loss as well as the antecedent scandals that caused the Europeans and Americans to force his resignation last January. A Special Prosecutor has indicted Gruevski for prompting violence against a political opponent. Gruevski is convinced that the Americans and Europeans are doing their best to make sure the final election results do not return him or his party to office.

That is likely true. While everyone is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court, once indicted politicians in democratic countries generally resign or do not seek public office. The Americans, at least until January 20, and Europeans will think it important that Gruevski conform to that norm. Especially as the accusation is one of abuse of power, his returning to power before the court case is decided would be distasteful at best, prejudicial to the judicial proceedings at worst. The fact that his parliamentary delegation included a convicted war criminal will not help him with the internationals.

The question is whether the opposition can form a coalition that commands a majority in parliament. Numerically, there are ways to do it, but politically some of the combinations are ruled out, as I understand Besa has pledged not to enter a coalition with DUI. Parliamentary systems make government formation particularly complex and difficult.

But the main thing for now is to get a clear election result, which may require that the poll be re-run in some places. Gruevski’s political party doesn’t like that idea and is demonstrating outside the election commission to try to prevent it from happening. That they are entitled to do, but the fact remains: no legitimate government can be formed on the basis of dubious election results.

Macedonia has a habit of driving up to the brink of disaster and only turning away at the last moment, often with international help or pressure of one sort or another. That is not a good way to run a sovereign, democratic state. Skopje’s troubles are causing its hopes for NATO and EU membership to fade farther into the future. Macedonia above all needs institutions that can manage the political competition transparently and fairly. Let’s hope the election commission is up to the task.



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