Macedonians And Their Father Figures

Macedonia's mainstream parties hoped for a quieter life by putting up junior candidates as successors to the country's overweening father figure, president Kiro Gligorov, but the contest only heralds deeper crises.

Macedonians And Their Father Figures

Macedonia's mainstream parties hoped for a quieter life by putting up junior candidates as successors to the country's overweening father figure, president Kiro Gligorov, but the contest only heralds deeper crises.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005
The era of the big "fathers of the nation" in Macedonia has come to an end. When the second round of the presidential election is completed, November 14, the president - whoever is chosen - will hold a ceremonial post whose functions have been pared down to pure formality.

By putting forward candidates of modest stature, the political parties in Macedonia have stated a preference for a president to serve the wider party interest - not another overarching national figure cast in the mould of outgoing Kiro Gligorov.

Though Gligorov's formal post was itself largely ceremonial, he had an influence that reached far beyond his actual constitutional authority. Not least, he will be remembered as the substantial figure that saved Macedonia from becoming embroiled in the

Balkan wars of the 1990s. The two figures competing in the second round are modest party figures. Tito Petkovski, the Social Democratic candidate, possesses a CV that no amount of brushwork can hide his past life as a solid member of the former communist nomenklatura.

His opponent is Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the strongest partner in the current ruling coalition. Trajkovski is a deputy foreign Minister, a relatively modest place in the government. He also holds a much more influential if informal position of chief foreign policy advisor to the party leader, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

But Petkovski has taken a leaf out of the VMRO-DPMNE book and built an electoral strategy on confrontation with the Albanians. He has opposed granting them an equal constitutional position with ethnic Macedonians, as they have demanded.

His anti-Albanian rhetoric is credited with giving him an unexpectedly deep first round lead of more than 130,000 votes over Trajkovski. The VMRO-DPMNE on the other hand have had to tone down their traditional hostility to the country's ethnic Albanians since coming into alliance with its coalition party the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

Thus Trajkovski is advocating a pro-Europe, anti-Communist and anti-Yugoslavist policy that is going down poorly with a population nostalgic for the certainties of the past. Many are happy to be out chanting 'Tito, Tito!' once more, this time for Petkovski.

As for the Albanian vote, it was split between two candidates in the first round, but coalition partner DPA confirmed a four-to-one lead over the rival Party for Democratic Prosperity. The DPA made its support for the independence of Kosovo clear, arguing that this would be the easiest answer to Macedonia's problems with Albanian minorities, inside and outside the country.

The DPA and PDP will bring their votes out for the presidential candidate who comes out in support of this policy, a difficult one for Trajkovski to swallow, but an easy one for the Albanian-baiting Petkovski to reject. Such positions have ramifications as the Democratic Alliance and VMRO-DPMNE must now compete in the second round for the votes of the electors whose first choices are now eliminated.

There is also the legal possibility that the entire vote could be invalidated if fewer than 805,000 people - half the electorate - actually vote. The Social Democrats are already accusing VMRO-DPMNE of plotting to sabotage the vote by organising a

boycott, if they think they would lose a straight match. Denied Albanian support, the Social Democratic Alliance will find it hard to win over extra votes, as then can only reasonably expect to take a few second round votes from Liberal Democrats and some parties that are not represented in the Parliament.

But it no surer that the Albanian vote - not even votes from supporters of the VMRO-DPMNE's Albanian coalition partners - will go to Trajkovski, even though both parties have pledged to preserve the alliance. The DPA says it will not endorse a candidate either, aiming to remind voters of the VMRO's past anti-Albanian excesses, without destroying the coalition.

Even without an organised boycott the danger that the benchmark figure of 805,000 will not be reached is a real one. If that measure is passed and Petkovic crosses the line ahead of Trajkovski, a period of impossible cohabitation between government and president will begin and will be sure to end in some constitutional crisis.

Unless Trajkovski can marshal the Albanian vote, he looks likely to lose. Yet the likely price the DPA and DA will demand for their support will by impossible for the VMRO-DPMNE to accept - probably more autonomy and equality of Albanian as an official language, and probably recognition of Kosovo's independence.

All this will sour inter-ethnic relations, always the most delicate sphere of Macedonian politics.

In the event of an invalid election, the speaker of the Macedonian parliament says he could call new elections in 40 days. But this new round of elections would be preceded by a campaign rendered even more tense by the excesses and intensity of the current situation. Social unrest, ethnic violence and national disorder might be impossible to rule out.

Zeljko Bajic is a journalist in Skopje.

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