Dominic Swire in Belgrade -
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikoli Gruevski has claimed a landslide win for his VMRO-DPMNE party in parliamentary elections held on June 1. However, the election was marred by violence in the Albanian quarter, and some fear further unrest could be on the cards.
Preliminary results show that Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE won the election comfortably, with Gruevski claiming his party will achieve its aim of claiming more than 60 seats in the 120 seat parliament, thus gaining a ruling majority. Estimates from VMRO-DPMNE's own count after 80% of votes had been counted show that they won 440,000 votes compared with just 215,000 for the main opposition party, the Social Democrats. "Tonight we will celebrate. Starting from tomorrow, there is work ahead of us, we have to deliver results and fulfill what we promised in our election agenda," Gruevski said following the preliminary results.
Gruevski's win was hardly a surprise. Part of the reason the prime minister decided to call the elections was to capitalise on the recent upsurge in nationalist feeling in the wake of the ongoing name dispute with Greece, which objects to its northern neighbour's constitutional name "Republic of Macedonia." Greece says this implies territorial ambition over a region in northern Greece also called Macedonia. The disagreement has been rumbling on for 17 years, culminating in April this year when Athens followed through with its threat to veto Macedonia's membership of Nato, and warned it would pull the same stunt with regards to country's bid to joint the EU.
Gruevski has stated he is personally against changing the name of his country, but proposed that any such proposal should be decided in a referendum. Analysts say the chance of the Macedonian population voting to compromise with Greece in the current political climate is highly unlikely. Relations between the two countries hit a low just prior to April's Nato conference when a number of billboards were spotted in the country depicting the Greek flag with a white Swastika instead of the normal cross, provoking outrage in Athens.
It's in the midst of this climate that Gruevski's centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party has seen unmatched popularity, providing one of the main reasons for the PM to call the elections in the hope of gaining a stronger four-year mandate and a parliamentary majority. Yet the resulting situation is unlikely to mean any change on the name issue in the short term, says Dragana Ignjatovic from economic forecasters Global Insight. "The rising anti-Greek, pro-nationalist sentiment in the country is unlikely to allow the new government to make substantive concessions on the issue since there would most likely be a negative backlash to such a manoeuvre. For the time being, I think an extension of the ongoing talks is about the best that can be hoped for," Ignjatovic told bne.
One of the biggest challenges for Macedonia's new government will be to placate the Albanian community. Trouble during voting left one man dead after a shooting incident in the Albanian stronghold of Aracinovo.
Albanian discontent was another of the reasons behind Gruevski's decision to call snap elections, originally pencilled in for 2010. Shortly before the Nato summit in April, the minority Albanian grouping, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), threatened to pull out of Macedonia's ruling coalition because they claimed reforms and rights for the country's 25% ethnic Albanian minority were not being implemented fast enough. In the end the party was held within the coalition, but subsequent failure to join Nato has led some to worry that the speed of reform may slow again. "There is a distinct possibility that the lack of imminent Nato membership will dissipate the incentive to push through pro-minority laws and reforms," explains Global Insight analyst Ignjatovic.
If this happens, Albanian frustration will rise again and Gruevski will have a job on his hands steering the country towards a peaceful future.
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