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Albanian Divisions Exposed
Violence between Macedonia's two main Albanians political parties marred last week's municipal elections.
On polling day, September 10, activists from the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, which is part of the ruling coalition, and their counterparts from the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, rejected a democratic resolution of their differences in favour of conflict.
According to the head of the DPA, violent incidents followed pre-election threats from the Macedonian United Opposition and the PDP. DPA sources say that in the early hours of September 10, PDP activists smashed polling boxes in a number of Albanian villages including Vishticë, Çollopek, Zhelinë, Kamjan and Pallçishtë. DPA activists in the Llabunishtë municipality are also alleged to have been beaten with baseball bats by PDP activists.
But the PDP claims its activists were also attacked. In the Dibër municipality, several PDP activists were injured and voting at all 24 polling stations was suspended. Shooting between rival Albanian party activists was also heard in Xhepçishtë and Këndovë.
PDP chairman Imer Imeri claims that seven members of his party were injured, one critically. "The DPA has drafted in 1000 well-paid and armed foot soldiers for these elections, criminals from Albania, Germany and Kosovo," he said.
In response, deputy premier and secretary of the DPA Bedredin Ibrahimi accused the United Opposition and the PDP of employing private security agencies to terrorise Albanian villages. "We have no reason to provoke incidents as the population have shown their support for DPA policy," he said.
A confrontation between the two parties has been simmering since their recent disagreement over the future of Tetovo University. However, tensions within the Albanian political scene were not solely prompted by policy differences. Beyond education, the PDP and DPA have similar programmes.
A decision by some MPs from the ruling VMRO-DPMNE to switch to the rival VMRO-VMRO party prompted Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievksi to warn that if opposition parties polled over 10 per cent more votes than the ruling coalition, then early general elections would be declared.
This bound the DPA to the VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Alternative, DA, to ensure the survival of the ruling coalition.
Meanwhile, the prospect of an early parliamentary election encouraged the PDP to fight harder, hoping it might later return to power with its former governing partner, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM.
The two Macedonian parties in the ruling coalition claim that inter-Albanian discord was orchestrated by the Macedonian opposition coalition. "These incidents were the product of great anxiety in the ranks of the United Opposition," claimed the VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Danillo Gligorovski.
Meanwhile, the United Opposition, composed of the former governing party the SDSM and the PDP, dubbed the incidents in Albanian municipalities as "scandalous". SDSM spokesman Vllado Buckovski said his party would support PDP members who were injured and that the SDSM would ask for fresh polls in areas where there was violence.
The preliminary OSCE/ODIHR report published one day after the voting was highly critical of the poll, "The following major irregularities were reported: a few blatant cases of ballot-box stuffing; unauthorised persons often present in and around polling stations, sometimes interfering in the process; widespread family voting and instances of proxy voting; identification documents not always checked."
However, looking at previous votes, it cannot be said that Albanians have never displayed political maturity. Albanians have participated in all previous parliamentary, presidential and local elections. Small irregularities were only noted last year during the second round of the presidential election when they had to choose between the two main Macedonian parties.
Then, the "one person votes for an entire family" method was used to ensure that the victory did not go to the SDSM candidate Tito Petkovksi, whose party did not hide either its anti-Albanian orientation or its anti-NATO stance during the bombardment of Yugoslavia.
In addition to suspicions that the SDSM could have links with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, Macedonia's Albanians felt badly treated and discriminated against during the rule of SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski. So it is possible that incidents at the polling stations could have been a response to the SDSM and those who cooperate with it.
But the events of September 10 not only injured individuals, they created an even wider chasm between the two largest Albanian political groupings in Macedonia. The DPA claims the PDP is exploiting the incidents. "They want to devalue the electoral success of the DPA and justify their own losses," said DPA leader Arbër Xhaferi.
Georgievski has ruled out an early parliamentary election, a decision welcomed by the DPA. "If someone tries to declare early parliamentary election by repression, the DPA will organise an Albanian boycott," said Xhaferi.
This, according to PDP secretary Mahi Nesimi, was proof that "the DPA does not enjoy any support from the electorate and Arbër Xhaferi is incapable of leaving power." Meanwhile, the PDP has decided to opt out of the elections. "We see no reason to contest the second round, as the Albanian electorate is deeply frightened," said Imeri.
The chairman of the OSCE/ ODIHR monitoring mission Charles Magee warned that a PDP withdrawal would aggravate an already tense situation.
Maybe this is the last chance for Albanian political leaders in Macedonia to realise that political instability within their community only serves to persuade the international community that electoral irregularities in Macedonian elections are a purely Albanian phenomenon.
Veton Latifi is a political analyst and freelance journalist from Macedonia.
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