Uncertain outcome of Macedonian election set to prolong crisis

Uncertain outcome of Macedonian election set to prolong crisis
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje December 12, 2016

The outcome of the Macedonian snap general election held on December 11 is still uncertain even though the governing conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled since 2006, has a narrow lead over its main rival, the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

The election was supposed to put an end to the long-standing political crisis in the country, but with most of the votes counted it seems that both of the main contenders will fail to form a new government, which may prolong the crisis. Macedonia could therefore be heading for a new round of elections in early 2017.

Both parties claimed victory following the election for the 123-seat parliament, the ninth since the country proclaimed independence in 1991. Turnout reached a record high of around 67%, according to state election commission (SEC) initial data, reflecting Macedonians’ desire to end the crisis. 

The SEC’s latest results show that VMRO-DPMNE won 37.95% of the vote compared to 36.71% for the SDSM, with 98.55% of the votes counted.

The opposition SDSM, which campaigned hard to overthrow the regime of Nikola Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE, first claimed it had won one more seat than its opponent and euphorically started a celebration in front of the government building. According to post-election calculations by the SDSM, the rival parties will have around 50 MPs each. In the previous parliament, the SDSM had just 34 seats to VMRO-DPMNE’s 61.

‘The regime has collapsed. We did it by voting,” SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, who is also a businessman and mayor of the eastern city of Strumica, claimed in an address to the crowd. The celebration was attended by hundreds of SDSM members and fans.

One hour later, in VMRO-DPMNE’s new luxury headquarters, party official Vlatko Gjorcev announced that his party was the winner after gaining around 20,000 more votes than the SDSM.

VMRO-DPMNE leader and ex-prime minister Gruevski appeared visibly perplexed at the modest celebration for his party. He thanked people for voting for the For a Better Macedonia coalition led by his party, and for “the fair and credible elections”.

“The process of forming a coalition and the government will follow. The crisis in Macedonia must end,” Gruevski said.

The election took place after nearly two years of political turmoil. The protracted political crisis was sparked by wiretapped conversations implicating officials from the senior governing party in corrupt and criminal activities. The tapes were revealed by Zaev in early 2015. 

Gruevski stepped down as prime minister early in 2016 as part of the Przino agreement reached in mid-2015 with the help of the EU and the US to bring the country out of the crisis. Gruevski, seen as an authoritarian leader, is currently under investigation by the Special Prosecution Office, which is in charge of probing crimes revealed by the wiretapping scandal.

Despite the signing of the Przino agreement the crisis later deepened with almost daily opposition protests. However, the situation calmed down in summer 2016 after the decision of the four major political parties to hold a snap election on December 11. 

The main surprise in the election was the strong performance of the Besa party, which became the second political force representing Macedonia’s large Albanian minority. It did better than the more established opposition Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), gaining around 4.9% of votes, according to partial results. The DPA, which was one of the four main political parties in Macedonia, won only 2.6% of the vote. Another ethnic Albanian party, the Alliance for Albanians, also outperformed the DPA, gaining around 3% of the vote. The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) won the largest share of the ethnic Albanian vote, 7.3%, but will take fewer seats in the parliament compared to previous elections.

In another shocker, the SDSM was supported by a large number of ethnic Albanians, which has not been the case for any Macedonian party so far. This came after the party put ethnic Albanian candidates on its candidate list, and promised to expand the use of the Albanian language in the country.  Ethnic Albanians make up one quarter of the population.

“I’m not happy with the DUI's performance. Albanians lost many mandates,” DUI leader Ali Ahmeti admitted as the votes came in. Initial calculations showed that the DUI will have around 10 seats in the parliament compared to 19 in the previous parliament.

Analysts say the narrow race between VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM without a clear winner will make it difficult for either party to form a stable government, which could lead to a new snap general election possibly as early as spring 2017, when local election are due to take place.

The other possibility is forming a broad coalition including both VMRO-DPMNE and the SDSM.

The SDSM managed to advance on its rival despite VMRO-DPMNE’s control of the public administration due to citizens’ dissatisfaction with the situation in the country and the need for real change, analysts believe.

They also argued that faith in Macedonian institutions, primarily in the judicial system, should be restored as a matter of urgency. 

“The high turnout indicates that people want to put an end to the crisis,” analyst Vladimir Bozinovski said in a debate on Telma TV.

Election day was peaceful, without any serious incidents. However, a number of disruptions were reported such as agitation, urging voters to vote for certain party or offering them money, organised transport of voters and the absence of some voters’ names from the electoral roll, according to NGO Most. The irregularities may lead to a re-vote in some polling stations.

However, the head of the state election commission, Aleksandar Cicakovski, said that the election day was “successful” and “impeccable”.

A total of 1.78mn people were eligible to vote in Macedonia. 20,573 diaspora Macedonians were registered to vote, but their turnout was reportedly low. 

People voted at 3,480 polling stations in Macedonia. The polling stations were open from 07.00 until 19.00 local time. Macedonians abroad voted at 46 polling stations a day earlier.

Over 7,500 local observers and 667 foreign observers monitored the election, including 337 international observers from the OSCE/ODIHR.

Macedonia is divided into six electoral districts under a proportional voting model, which favours the major political parties.