A New Chance For Inter-Ethnic Relations

VMRO-DPMNE candidate Boris Trajkovski swung last month's presidential elections in Macedonia, despite allegations of vote fraud, notably in the west of the country. But what does it mean for ethnic harmony in the country?

A New Chance For Inter-Ethnic Relations

VMRO-DPMNE candidate Boris Trajkovski swung last month's presidential elections in Macedonia, despite allegations of vote fraud, notably in the west of the country. But what does it mean for ethnic harmony in the country?

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

After complaints of electoral fraud during last month's presidential elections, voters in the 23 constituencies, mostly in Western Macedonia, returned to the polls on December 5 to cast their votes again.

According to the State Electoral Commission results the VMRO-DPMNE candidate, Boris Trajkovski, won 133,000 votes, while his rival from the Social-Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), Tito Petkovski, won only 3,600 votes.

When combined with results from the previous rounds, Trajkovski won a total of 582,000 votes against 513,000 votes for Petkovski. So, barring amendments to the results from court proceedings, Trajkovski has been elected to lead Macedonia in the next millennium.

On December 6 Petkovski's headquarters lodged complaints against 220 polling stations in 20 of the constituencies. But by the next day the SDSM withdrew these objections and conceded electoral defeat. The State Electoral Commission said, however, that it would wait for the legal period for raising objections to expire before officially announcing the result, which is now expected early next week.

Even though Trajkovski's victory is now generally acknowledged, these elections will long be remembered for the manner in which they unfolded, particularly for the ethnic dimension in the results. Despite conceding defeat the SDSM still harbour a belief that results in certain areas were rigged.

Indeed SDSM observers chose to abandon their appointed polling stations on December 5, hoping that without their signatures on the electoral lists the elections would be ruled invalid. However, the elections were brought to the close despite this incident.

Petkovski also blamed the current authorities for political violence and forgery in collusion with the VMRO's Albanian coalition partners and the Democratic Alternative party (DPA) of Vasil Tupurkovski. Petkovski's allegations undoubtedly stem from the fact that the electoral re-runs took place in constituencies where Albanians comprise 90 to 100 per cent of the electorate.

Petkovski had won nearly 34 per cent of the votes in the first round against only 22 per cent for s Trajkovski. The SDSM campaign focused on an anti-Albanian message and Petkovski was convinced that this formula would guarantee success in the final, second round.

Petkovski even sharpened his tone telling Albanians he did not need their votes if their support required concessions on the official status of Albanians and the Albanian language in Macedonia. Through out the campaign Petkovski persistently emphasised he "will never recognise the independence of Kosovo."

Petkovski's stance provoked an emotional response from Albanians in Macedonia. It appears that even those who did not "adore" the VMRO candidate or the party itself, and who would normally abstain from voting in the absence of an Albanian candidate, opted to vote for Trajkovski in order to block Petkovski.

In the second round, therefore, electoral fortunes were transformed and Trajkovski secured a majority over his rival. The SDSM reacted with accusations that the Democratic Party of Albanians had abused its electorate and thrown ballots into the ballot boxes even though most Albanians had not in fact voted. According to the SDSM, Trajkovski received "220,000 ballots and not 220,000 votes."

The SDSM's claim that only 10 per cent of the Albanian electorate had actually voted was clearly an exaggeration but the Supreme Court of Macedonia accepted some of the SDSM complaints and ordered the re-runs on December 5.

What remains to be analysed is the fact that the Albanian electorate has played a pivotal role in the presidential elections. SDSM accusations directed at the DPA that they forged the results hinge on the "argument" that more Albanians voted for Trajkovski in the second round than for the Albanian candidates - Muharem Nexhipi (DPA) or Muhamed Halili (PDP) - in the first round.

The SDSM argue that it is improbable that Albanians would vote in such large numbers for a Macedonian candidate. But for anyone who watched television coverage of the December 5 elections which showed the elderly, women and even the sick arriving at the polling stations it is clear the SDSM have failed to grasp that something new is taking place in Macedonia.

With the high level of support for Trajkovski, Albanian voters have demonstrated they no longer trust the SDSM, the party of preference over the past eight or nine years (when no Albanian candidate was on offer).

SDSM claims of vote rigging have backfired. Insufficient evidence has been provided to authenticate the allegations. All observers, including the ambassadors of the EU countries in Skopje, ruled that the December 5 elections were fairer than previous rounds, despite some irregularities.

What makes these elections special is the fact that Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia jointly elected their president for the first time in their joint history. This is undoubtedly a valuable achievement, which the SDSM allegedly strove to accomplish but never realised.

The SDSM's frustration that the VMRO and DPA have succeeded where they have failed provoked a series of accusations that have disturbed Macedonians a great deal. The SDSM has repeatedly alarmed the public with claims that the VMRO and the DPA have struck a deal to break up the country and hand over the territory to Bulgaria and Albania. The VMRO and DPA deny these allegations.

International observers have clearly understood the game the SDSM is playing and have lined up in support behind the co-operative relationship in the coalition government and the new "joint" presidency. What is especially good news is the fact that this co-operation is inter-ethnic.

As far as "conspiracy theories" about the future division of the country are concerned, those have yet to be proven.

Meanwhile, it is clear to that the citizens of Macedonia who have accepted the principle of a multi-ethnic community have yet to realise it in practice. The election of Boris Trajkovski is perhaps the first concrete step in that direction.

Ibrahim Mehmeti is a journalist in Skopje.

Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo
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