Balkanalysis on Twitter

Campaigning Begins for Macedonian Elections

March 23, 2004


( Research Service)- The early elections necessitated by the sudden death of President Boris Trajkovski on 26 February have caught Macedonia’s political parties unprepared.

They’d planned to have all summer to leisurely choose candidates and prepare their platforms, but with time now of the essence, candidates and platforms have hastily been thrown together ad hoc.The election will begin in barely 3 weeks. Round 1, on April 14, is to be followed by the final vote on April 28. Yet who will win, and what will it omen?

The current prime and minister and election front-runner, Branko Crvenkovski of the ruling SDSM, would clinch at least another 3 years of personal empowerment by winning the presidential election. While the next parliamentary elections are slated for 2006, if he wins the presidency Crvenkovski will be firmly ensconced in power until at least 2009. Yesterday Crvenkovski’s campaign got a symbolic boost, when he handed over Macedonia’s official EU application to Irish PM Bertie Ahern in Dublin.

A party spokesman, Boris Kondarko, announced unanimous party support for Crvenkovski’s candidacy on 17 March. The prime minister recently stated that the emergency situation (i.e., of the power vacuum left by Trajkovski’s death) justifies the retention of his position during the campaign.

Yet some legal scholars and journalists have criticized this and similar tactics of SDSM, considering that the Crvenkovski campaign involves the active participation of no less than 6 ranking cabinet ministers, including SDSM’s Vlado Buchkovski, Radmila Sekerinska and Ilinka Mitreva, as well as coalition partner LDP’s Jovan Manasievski and Vlado Popovski.

When asked how these officials could continue fulfilling their regular duties while also campaigning, defense minister and campaign boss Vlado Buchkovski answered, “we are professionals.”

The prime minister has the natural advantages of being the country’s most powerful and prominent official, while also commanding the allegiance of the government’s multi-ethnic coalition. Thus while Albanian partners DUI will run their own candidate in the first round of the elections, they will no doubt draw ranks behind Crvenkovski in the second round.

DUI has chosen a candidate who has the blessings of party boss and former militant leader Ali Ahmeti. Unsurprisingly, this man is another former NLA leader, “General” Gzim Ostreni. A prime example of Macedonian irony, Ostreni owes his post-war fame to his overseeing of the simulated weapons collection drive last November. Ahmeti introduced him last week in Tetovo as a ‘general’ with a “famous past,” who can “…be respected like a president by all citizens. He didn’t leave here to fight in Kosovo, but he stayed here in Macedonia to help realize the rights of all citizens.”

Although just who Ahmeti was referring to with this “all citizens” comment remains very much open to question, Ostreni has nevertheless given lip service to the unity and ethnic harmony platform on which the West allowed his gunslinger party to come to power.

The full implications of a Crvenkovski victory remain unclear. Who would the party rotate into the still-warm chair in the prime minister’s office, and what ministerial shifts will we see? One scenario now sees current Interior Minister Hari Kostov taking over the PM’s job, while Buchkovski would become party president. But there are other possibilities too.

It is likely, however, that the Albanian DUI will use the occasion as an opportunity to consolidate its power, perhaps even making a case for taking for itself one of the “important” ministries (i.e., defense, interior or finance), though they already have deputy ministers in each of these, as well as full ministerial posts in several other vital ministries.

Sitel TV yesterday speculated that DUI will also ask for the amnesty of one ‘Commander Baci,’ a militant currently being held in a Tetovo jail. According to the station, however, this farcical incarceration sees Baci go free every weekend and “give orders” to his minions on the outside.

Whatever the specifics may involve, it is clear that the reality of the Albanian vote-getting power means that DUI will surely demand some concessions in return for its “help” electing the new president. Many Macedonians fear that this could lead to complications. President Trajkovski, after all, was elected with a lot of help from the Albanian DPA; less than 2 years later, war broke out.

Once a leading voice of “moderation,” DPA elder statesman Arben Xhaferi has become a mouthpiece for brazen Albanian nationalism since the 2002 election campaign which his party lost to DUI. Although this often vitriolic view has kept DPA in limbo, estranged from the West’s rhetoric for a multi-ethnic Macedonia, Xhaferi is betting that as time goes on, Albanians will be more and more disillusioned by the slow pace of reforms and go over to his side.

Using the rhetoric of being more-Albanian-than-thou, DPA has attempted to cut into DUI’s voter base, with the ineluctable result that both parties must continue the same militaristic, nationalistic campaign rhetoric that boasts of Gzim Ostreni’s “generalship” and precludes the consideration of more pertinent and tangible issues.

Until recently, Xhaferi himself was said to be the DPA candidate in the presidential elections. However, he has apparently failed the initial condition for candidacy, as he has not lived in Macedonia for the last 10 years (Xhaferi’s family lives in Norway).

At his party’s recent convention in Gostivar, Xhaferi demanded “…complete equality at every level of society” for Albanians, and announced that questions though settled would be reopened, reported Dnevnik:

“…we are campaigning in this election for the reopening of the great debate about Albanians’ condition in Macedonia. That condition should be equality at every level of the society and requirement for separation of powers, and not at all integrated power.”

As usual, Xhaferi threatened war. “…If this debate will not be taken seriously,” he muttered, “naturally tensions for secession [will rise] as has happened in other Albanian regions.” Speaking in Tetovo, Xhaferi reiterated previous objections to the Ohrid Framework Agreement, stating that “…if energy doesn’t exist” for the realization of the agreement, ethnic partition is the best result:

“…our goal is not to be the winner against DUI on this election, but rather to defeat all options which are against Albanian interest in Macedonia.”

Meanwhile, the chief Macedonian opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, has nominated Sashko Kedev, a relatively unknown medical doctor as its candidate. Kedev won his first party nominating signature on 16 March, symbolically from former party leader and prime minister Ljubco Georgievski. However, Georgievski did not attend the party’s brief nominating convention and some suspect that he only signed off to leave the appearance of party unity.

VMRO has run advertisements questioning Crvenkovski’s integrity and accusing him of attempting to make political profit from his speech at the late President Trajkovski’s funeral.

Kedev is running on opposition to the entrenched power structure in Macedonia which his party believes is stifling growth and new thinking, particularly regarding the economy. Led by popular former finance minister Nikola Gruevski, VMRO list high unemployment prominently among its charges against the SDSM government.

Gruevski recently compared Kedev’s candidacy as a David-and-Goliath struggle- a fairly accurate portrayal of a political newcomer’s fight against a three-time prime minister.

The latter’s stated platform includes upholding stable ethnic relations, pushing reforms in defense and diplomacy, including the younger generations in the political process and improving relations with the Macedonian diaspora- a possibility with great potential for Macedonian foreign investment and political lobbying in the future.

Another party member, former interior minister Ljube Boskovski, has announced his candidacy but is not likely to pick up much support. Boskovski recently cryptically remarked that “…those people who want the retirement of Ljubco Georgievski… will not succeed, because the time of Boskovski and Georgievski will come.” The former interior minister is apparently playing to nationalistic fervor, the election season coinciding with promotions for his new book, entitled “My fight for Macedonia.”

In the end, it is likely that Crvenkovski will prevail. This will keep him in power until 2009- particularly useful in that he will not have to lead the SDSM in the next general elections (set for 2006), in which we can expect a much stronger showing from the VMRO-DPMNE. If the latter were to win, an SDSM shake-up would inevitably follow, with internal contestations, though Crvenkovski would – from the president’s office – remain the power behind the party.

2004-2009 Back Archives