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Tito Takes The First Round In Macedonia

The strong showing by the Social Democrat has forced runners-up to make some quick strategic decisions, while the ruling VMRO-DPMNE announces major personnel changes.
By Stefan Krause
Tito Petkovski, candidate of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of out-going president Kiro Gligorov, has scored a substantial victory in the first round of the Macedonian presidential elections.



But surprising results among the other contenders and heavy behind the scenes manoeuvring suggest that much remains to play for in the next round.



According to preliminary results released by the State Electoral Commission, 65.2 percent of registered voters turned out for the first round, held October 31. Petkovski took a substantial 32.7 percent of the vote. Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which is the leading party in the current governing coalition, was a distant runner-up with 20.9 percent.



The candidates of the two other parties in the governing coalition, Vasil Tupurkovski of the Democratic Alternative (DA) and Muharem Nexhipi of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), secured 15.5 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively. Stojan Andov of the Liberal Democratic Party received 10.7 percent. The second ethnic-Albanian candidate, Muhamed Halili of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), came in last with just 4.4 percent.



The PDP claimed that these were the most fraudulent elections in recent Macedonian history. But this faction-ridden party needs some explanation for its candidate's disastrous showing. Despite some irregularities, all other domestic and international observers agreed that the elections were free and fair. As for the PDP, it appears about to fall apart, and is no longer a serious political force.



After the surprisingly good showing of the Social Democrat's Petkovski, who received some 120,000 more votes than VMRO-DPMNE's Trajkovski, the candidates are now hunting hard for the voters of candidates who are dropping out.



Both Tupurkovski and DPA leader Arben Xhaferi have said that they will not tell their voters which candidate to support. Andov, the Liberal, whose platform is similar to Petkovski's, is holding talks with the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE. But judging from his campaign and the fact that his party is in the opposition, it is likely that he will in the end endorse Petkovski, and that most of his voters will support the SDSM candidate.



If Tupurkovski does not endorse a candidate, and his supporters do turn out in the second round, it is widely expected that these votes will be divided fairly equally, with a possible advantage for the VMRO-DPMNE's Trajkovski. As for the ethnic Albanian vote, the only sure thing is that Petkovski will not pick up a significant portion since he is perceived as anti-Albanian. The main question regarding Albanians is whether they will bother to vote at all.



Statements by both Tupurkovski and Xhaferi have sparked rumours of another scenario: that they both may try to keep their voters at home in the next round. Tupurkovski, who failed earlier this year in his bid to become the anointed joint candidate of the governing coalition, still wants to become president himself. Xhaferi is not too happy with the prospect of a VMRO presidency, in the guise of Trajkovski. Both of them strongly dislike the only other option, namely that the SDSM's Petkovski wins the presidential office.



Such speculation turns on the voting rules, which require a turnout in the second round of at least 50 percent. Otherwise, the entire exercise must be repeated from scratch. In the run-up to the vote, some polls put Tupurkovski in single digits. As a result, he appears to have done surprisingly well, with his score of 15.5 percent. In a new contest, he could present himself as the white knight and possibly secure his coveted position as the coalition's joint candidate.



Such a turn events would, however, be a serious setback for democracy. It would suggest an old-style approach of voting blocs, delivered (or withheld) on command. It would indicate that some leading politicians refuse to accept results from democratic elections if not to their liking.



On the other hand, both Tupurkovski and Xhaferi may just be playing their cards close to their chests in order to extract maximum concessions from the VMRO-DPMNE in return for endorsing Trajkovski.



Whatever the outcome on November 14, the first-round results have already caused substantial fallout within the VMRO-DPMNE because of its poor showing. Several municipal party chiefs have been sacked, and more purges are expected.



Meanwhile, local party activists are demanding that heads also roll at the top. Several of them have called for the dismissal of Dosta Dimovska, deputy party leader and deputy prime minister. As head of personnel within the party, they say she is the main culprit for the party's low polling. If she is forced to go, it would be a serious setback for party leader and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who has relied heavily on her in recent years.



Meanwhile, immediately following the elections Georgievski's spokesman has announced a major government reshuffle. Several heavyweights are being mentioned as possible victims, including the main proponents of VMRO-DPMNE's pro-Bulgarian wing. Also tipped for the chop is Finance Minister Boris Stojmenov, the main anchor of the party's business wing and one of its primary financiers during its years in opposition.



Ministers belonging to the Tupurkovski's DA and possibly Xhaferi's DPA are also likely to be replaced, among them probably Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov.



At the same time, these two junior coalition partners are demanding a stronger role in the government, pointing to their candidates' strong showing compared to VMRO-DPMNE's Trajkovski. Both Tupurkovski and the DPA's Nexhipi scored much higher than their parties did in the 1998 parliamentary elections, while Trajkovski lost heavily compared to his party's 1998 results.



Tupurkovski has already made vague statements suggesting that the DA may leave the governing coalition unless there is a reshuffle. He did not rule out the possibility of a parliamentary crisis or even early parliamentary elections. The seriousness of rumours of a possible boycott remains to be seen. In this interim between the two rounds, what is already clear is that Macedonian politics promises to be more interesting than before, but also less stable.



Stefan Krause is a political analyst who has worked for the past year in Skopje for the International Crisis Group.



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