Macedonia: VMRO on the Way Out?

Ruling coalition seems to be losing ground as election campaign reaches its final stages.

Macedonia: VMRO on the Way Out?

Ruling coalition seems to be losing ground as election campaign reaches its final stages.

More than 3,000 candidates from 53 parties are scrambling for just 120 parliamentary seats in the Macedonian general election this weekend, which is likely to result in defeat for the governing alliance.

For the majority ethnic Macedonian community, the main battle is between two coalitions. Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski's ruling VMRO-DPMNE and Liberal Party partnership is lining up against For Macedonia All Together, which consists of smaller groups led by the Social Democratic Union, SDSM, headed by former prime minister Branko Crvenkovski.

Some polls seem to suggest VMRO-DPMNE could be on its way out. One survey of 4,300 ethnic Macedonian voters by the Institute of Solidarity and Democracy showed the opposition coalition had captured 59 per cent of the vote - with only 39 per cent backing the current regime.

Within the ethnic Albanian minority, the contest is between the charismatic Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, and the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, headed by former National Liberation Army leader Ali Ahmeti.

The institute's survey showed Ali Ahmeti's DUI to be the popular choice of the Albanian electorate, with 13 per cent of the vote. Arben Xhaferi's DPA and the Party of Democratic Prosperity, PDP, were roughly equal with four per cent. Around 20 per cent of voters are still undecided.

A sprinkling of seats could go to outsiders such as the Socialist Party, led by ex-communist and former Slobodan Milosevic confidante Ljubisav Ivanov-Dzingo, or the Democratic Union run by ex- interior minister Pavle Trajanov.

During the campaign for the September 15 poll, the VMRO-DPMNE and Liberal Party coalition - employing the slogan "Raise Your Heads High!" - promised to improve living standards and to create 160,000 new jobs.

The opposition For Macedonia All Together coalition accuses its rivals of initiating last year's violent ethnic conflict, corrupting national institutions and plunging the country into economic crisis.

The security situation caused by last year's armed conflict has been a major issue in the campaign, while Georgievski stating that the problem can only be cured by ethnic unity.

He demanded the political isolation of former "leaders of armed violence" - a reference to Ahmeti. But the opposition rejected the prime minister's request for a joint agreement to keep the DUI and its leader out of any role in government.

In their speeches to date, both sides have shied away from mentioning the Ohrid Agreement, signed by the leaders of the four biggest political parties in August last year, which put an end to the armed conflict. The agreement provided for improved Albanian civil rights and was viewed sourly by ethnic Macedonians who regarded it as capitulation to armed force.

However, the agreement has come up in domestic and foreign media interviews given by the two main leaders.

Georgievski said the Ohrid Agreement was "a piece of paper that could not fill in the crack in inter-ethnic relations created by the initiators of last year's armed violence". Crvenkovski, even though he does not regard the agreement as the best solution, still supports its full implementation.

Throughout the campaign, insults have been flying thick and fast. The ruling coalition accused the opposition of treason during last year's fighting. It claimed the SDSM intended to enter a coalition with Ali Ahmeti following the elections. Crvenkovski also weighed in, saying, "A vote for VMRO-DPMNE is a vote against Macedonia."

Campaigning has been relatively peaceful in the Albanian camp, despite fears of violence in the mainly Albanian north-west.

Under the slogan "We Support the West", Arben Xhafer's DPA campaigns for integration of Macedonia in the EU and NATO and a declaration of independence in Kosovo, as a pre-requisite for resolution of the "Albanian issue in the Balkans".

Ahmeti and the DUI use the slogan "Together Towards a Victory!" and extol the merits of last year's Albanian insurgency, which led to improved civil rights for the minority. "We will integrate Macedonia in Europe as a multi-ethnic country," says Ahmeti.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, has created its largest monitoring mission to date to cover the elections. The 800-strong group is being watched over by NATO's Task Force Fox.

NATO's Skopje spokesman Craig Ratcliff told IWPR that while he expects the election to pass off peacefully, an infantry unit has been placed on a state of alert "just in case".

Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, said on a recent to Skopje that the elections "are a test to see whether parties can continue to work towards building a peaceful and stable society, and towards economic recovery, inter-ethnic reconciliation and integration into European structures."

Brussels is monitoring the situation carefully. Though the EU refused to offer public support to any party, IWPR understands that an SDSM victory would be regarded in a positive light. It's thought that the party would be unable to form a government on its own and would probably have to form a coalition with either the DPA or the DUI.

Borjan Jovanovski works for Forum magazine in Skopje and Voice of America.

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