Macedonia: Nationalist Rivals Renew Electoral Pact

Ethnic divide blurs as political rivals prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections

Macedonia: Nationalist Rivals Renew Electoral Pact

Ethnic divide blurs as political rivals prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections

Hardliners from both sides of Macedonia's ethnic divide are lining up to renew their present ruling coalition and push aside rivals within their own communities during the run up to parliamentary elections later this year.

Parliament speaker Stojan Andov called the elections for September 15. He hoped they would further the peace process which settled last year's bloody conflict between the country's ethnic Macedonian majority and its Albanian minority. A Western-sponsored peace accord granted the latter greater language rights and a larger representation in public services.

Voters in Macedonia generally vote for parties from their own ethnic group. The main battle is usually inside each community. This time the leading Macedonian and Albanian parties are both showing low opinion poll ratings amongst their own constituencies and looking to each other for support.

On the Macedonian side, Prime minister Ljupco Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE is competing against the leading opposition party SDSM. Of the 120 seats in the parliament 91 or 92 usually go to ethnic Macedonian voters.

Albanians, on the other hand, will by and large choose between Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, of Arben Xhaferi and the newly established Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, mostly consisting of former NLA fighters led by ex-guerrilla chief Ali Ahmeti.

They will compete for about 28-29 seats in the parliament. Ahmeti, despite his guerrilla past, now favours Macedonia's peaceful absorption into the European fold.

Since probably no party will win an absolute majority in parliament, the next government will again be a coalition. Xhaferi and Georgievski have already stated that if they win enough votes they will band together again in government.

"I think that Georgievski is neither better nor worse than any other (Macedonian

politician)," Xhaferi said last week in an interview for Forum Magazine. He was responding to allegations that he is teaming up with the person who was fulfilling a "rigid anti-Albanian programme".

This aroused scorn from Petar Gosev, member of parliament from the opposition Liberal-Democratic Party. "This Georgievski-Xhaferi coalition is very natural. They produced the war together, they are robbing the country together. They both have crazy ideas about ethnic cleansing and partition of the country, so it's not surprising they should join to protect themselves from the punishment that will come after the elections," he told IWPR.

Faced with flagging support among voters, VMRO-DPMNE has announced a strongly pro-Macedonian nationalistic policy. DPA has proclaimed a similarly hawkish pro-Albanian position. Both parties see this as the only way to attract more nationalistic backing and frighten opposition voters away from the polling stations.

The question arises how two parties with such contradictory nationalistic policies could build a coalition. Critical observers say that, once elected, VMRO-DPMNE and DPA may soft-pedal their hawkish aspirations and concentrate on running the country to their own advantage. The same happened after the previous election and VMRO-DPMNE and DPA would repeat it again if they have a chance after these elections.

Violence has featured in most polls since Macedonia became independent 10 years ago. But analysts say this time the violence is likely to be inside the two communities rather than across the divide. The crisis regions of north-western Macedonia. have been so plagued by gunfire and other violence that it may be difficult in some places for polling to go ahead.

Analysts warn there is also the risk of rigged results. If previous Macedonian elections are a guide, the immediate aftermath may be particularly difficult. It often takes weeks for results to be published and they are frequently controversial. "It is likely there will be substantial intimidation and fraud to sway the election outcome," Edward Joseph, a senior analyst for International Crisis Group, ICG, told IWPR.

The OSCE office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, will soon begin deploying a large-scale, long-term observation mission. "We hope the massive presence of international observers will contribute to a proper conduct of these crucial elections and increase public confidence in the vote," said ODIHR ambassador Gerard Stoudmann after a visit to Skopje. "But of course it is for the government, the authorities and the political parties to ensure a fair electoral process."

The OSCE/ODIHR plans to deploy up to 750 short-term observers and more than 50 mid-term and long-term ones to oversee the process of voting, counting and tabulation. Opposition parties have welcomed their presence, but warned that roving monitors couldn't be as effective as static ones. Some 400 teams of two people will cover more than 3,000 voting districts. Analysts pointed out that the election observers have no power to stop irregularities or to intervene in case of fraud.

Ana Pertruseva is regular IWPR contributor from Skopje

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