2016 parliamentary election in Macedonia: A Balkan version of Putinism

 

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in the Republic of Macedonia in the light of early parliamentary election scheduled for 11 December 2016. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “2016 parliamentary election in Macedonia: A Balkan version of Putinism“ are given below.

2016 parliamentary election in Macedonia:

 A Balkan version of Putinism

 

The already twice-postponed early parliamentary election in the Republic of Macedonia will eventually be held on 11 December 2016. In April 2016 the IFIMES International Institute published an analysis on political situation in Macedonia entitled “Macedonia: A country and democracy stolen“ (available at:  http://www.ifimes.org/en/9167).

 

The forthcoming early parliamentary election is the result of the Pržina Agreement from June 2015 when following long and difficult negotiations the four leading political parties in Macedonia – the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia(SDSM), Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) and Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA-PDSH) – reached an agreement to overcome the political crisis caused by illegally tapped telephone conversations of 26,000 citizens and to hold early parliamentary election under certain conditions.  The key issue was to revise the voters list which had over 330,000 voters (now 200,000) and to establish appropriate media regulation and equal access to media for all political entities in order to ensure their equal treatment by the media in the election campaign as opposed to previous absolute media hegemony by VMRO-DPMNE. The above  conditions have been partly met, although VMRO-DPMNE still dominates in Macedonian mainstream media. Another problem is the balanced number of voters in individual election districts, which is most evident in the sixth mostly ethnic Albanian-populated district. This has caused a constitutional dispute which may raise doubts as to the legitimacy of election, bearing in mind that the votes have different values in different election districts.

 

Macedonia is facing numerous challenges, such as internal disintegration of the state which is generally regarded the most complex and enigmatic phenomenon. Despite great internal and external antagonism, economic problems and various collapses in the functioning of state administration, many states still manage to survive. On the other hand, despite the positive signs of development some states experience implosion and eventually disintegrate and disappear as if they never existed. These kinds of challenges Macedonia will have to overcome by reaching general social consensus.

 

For the first time in the history of Macedonian elections, there will be no dominant votes based on ethnic principles at forthcoming election. The general national movement and the "Colorful Revolution" have triggered tectonic changes in Macedonian society and the political scene. The ethnic principle, according to which each voter voted the political parties from his or her ethnic community, pushed Macedonian society into regression and brought the state to the verge of collapse. This has raised concerns among the so called national leaders. The controversial DUI leader Ali Ahmeti stated recently for RSE/RFERL that SDSM does not have the right to receive Albanian votes in Macedonia, which illustrates his democratic capacity and reflects his worries that the period of false national leaders who have brought the state to the verge of collapse has ended. His statement is non-democratic and fascist. Ahmeti's politics have put Albanians in the most difficult position since Macedonia gained independence. Now they have to find a new representative and vote for other parties that would articulate their interests, mostly as the citizens of Macedonia. DUI and DPA are definitely no longer those representatives.

 

Emigration of the young population from eastern part of Macedonia (while most of them have already emigrated from western part of Macedonia) is the most obvious indicator of the "efficiency" of Macedonian current politics. The young are massively submitting requests for Bulgarian citizenship in order to get the passport to the EU countries. According to Eurostat 250,000 young persons have left Macedonia in the past few years. In real terms the population of Macedonia currently counts only 1.65 million, with the tendency to fall to under 1.5 million in the next few years.

 

The following 11 coalitions and parties will run at the forthcoming parliamentary election:1. The VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition "For a Better Macedonia" 2. Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) 3. Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) 4. the SDSM-led opposition coalition 5. the coalition "For Change and Justice" (FRODEM, DEMOS, DS MORO-RP) 6. Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) 7. the coalition "Alliance for Albanians" (DR-DPA Uniteti, NDP) 8. Liberal Party 9. VMRO-­Coalition for Macedonia(VMRO - NP, OM, Dostojanstvo) 10. Movement Besa 11. The Left.

Annihilating economic indicators

The situation in Macedonia is further aggravated by annihilating economic indicators resulting from long years of VMRO-DPMNE & DUI government. Instead of creating added value, its primary focus was to cover the past mistakes and to patch up holes in the national budget.

 

In 2008 national debt per capita stood at about EUR 700, while by 2016 it went up to EUR 1,700. Current public debt amounts to EUR 4.8 billion (51% GDP) as compared to EUR 1.5 billion (23% of GDP) in 2008.  The question is where those 3.3 billion have been spent. It is obvious: on building administration premises and buildings, monuments (EUR 700 million), higher pensions to get the pensioners' votes, and dubious tenders, with a special budget line allocated to "agreed services"  amounting to EUR 300 million per year. Another 8 million Euros are provided from the budget for 2000 employees who do not even go to work. 

 

Every day the incumbent government creates a debt of two million Euros, which it raises from domestic banks due to poor credit rating. In 2016 alone national debt increased by EUR 560 million. The budget for 2017 envisages a deficit of EUR 310 million and new debts of at least EUR 300 million will have to be raised in order to repay the old ones.

 

The World Bank proposed Macedonian government to take a more cautions and rational approach to economy and fiscal consolidation in order to prevent further increasing of debt and to revitalize the economy. The use of public debt and its management is of utmost importance. It is estimated that Macedonian public debt will continue to increase in the short run.

 

EUR 400 million have been allocated for capital investments this year, but only a half of them were realised during the first 9 month. Instead of flat tax rate Macedonia should introduce progressive tax rate – the rich should pay higher taxes – in order to increase budget revenues and reduce new debts.  Additional EUR 200 million would be raised in the budget if taxes were collected more systematically. Flat tax rate and low price of labour are Nikola Gruevski's (VMRO-DPMNE) trump card, since he believes that they attract foreign investors, although EUR 400 million are being stolen at the same time. Every invested asset should multiply by two or three to bring yield.  It is absurd that Gruevski regards cheap labour as an advantage – in this way he will never be able to increase the extremely low standard of Macedonian citizens.

 

Other economic indicators are also worrying. The country's total export is EUR 4.5 billion while its total import is EUR 6.7 billion. Thus the foreign trade coverage ratio is only 67.1%, and external trade balance deficit amounts to  EUR 2.2 billion. The average economic growth in recent years was about 2.8%, which is not enough – at least 5% economic growth should be ensured for the country's economic development and regular debt servicing.

The United States return to Macedonia

During the 10 years of VMRO-DPMNE & DUI government the citizens of Macedonia had their country and democracy stolen by the regime. VMRO-DPMNE focused primarily on institutional crime and corruption since it had control over all the levers of power, while it left most of non-institutional crime to the Albanian leaders (DUI). That basically represented the separation of powers and areas of interest between VMRO-DPMNE and DUI in practice.Sašo Mijalkov, who was then the head of Administration for Security and Counter-Intelligence (Macedonian secret service), played an important role in those agreements, as he was in possession of „colorful“ criminal records of Albanian leaders and businessmen as well as all those who might represent a potential threat to the government.

 

A fortunate turn of events is that the United States of America returned to Macedonia after withdrawing their forces from Kosovo. The US reactions are becoming more and more intensive, since the system of authoritarian populismthat has been established in Macedonia can not be overthrown through regular democratic institutions such as elections, bearing in mind that they are completely controlled and (mis)used by the incumbent regime. Macedonian state institutions represent a part of the problem instead of being a tool for reaching solution. Under the US pressures Special Public Prosecution (SJO) was set up in Macedonia which functions in parallel with the paralyzed ordinary public prosecutor's office. The system in which it functions enables the current regime to control every segment of society and to organise elections every year if needed in order to achieve the desired results. Analysts have described Macedonia as a country with colonized media, judiciary and state administration, where police is used to enable plundering of the state. The cooperation of democratic actors helps the ruling regime to legitimize this authoritarian, criminal and totally absurd system.

 

Nevertheless, the effects of US presence in Macedonia are visible. The Americans are in charge of making tectonic changes and direct interventions in the system and its legislation, while the EU plays a different role. The latter is more active in the fields of media regulation, financial injections, promotion of the EU accession process, supporting the civil society etc.  

A Balkan version of Putinism

Russia is trying to strengthen its position in the region. This especially refers to Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska), but those processes have also been intensified in Macedonia. However, Montenegro has recently made a big step to NATO full membership while Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić has focused his foreign and economic policy on Germany and the EU.

 

Obviously Vladimir Putin  is trying to create a different impression with his robust behaviour on the international scene. Russia's international expansion can not go hand in hand with poor economy which is of monocultural structure and vulnerable to energy prices (oil, gas) on the global market. Russia can not be a superpower if its economy is underdeveloped and lagging behind. Sympathies for Putin are mostly rhetoric in nature and stem from romantic national and Orthodox aspirations and attempts to imitate Putin in Macedonia. However, ideological sympathies and fantasies regarding close relations between Macedonia and Russia have no real footing and political foundations.

 

This can be compared to Nikola Gruevski(VMRO-DPMNE) who wants to show his power and supremacy in Macedonia while he is trying to hide the devastating economic indicators and the real danger of collapse of the state. This is probably the only similarity between Gruevski and Putin. Observing Putin as the idol while leading the state to NATO and EU full membership represents a Balkan version of Putinism which has experienced a total collapse.

Gruevski-Zaev television confrontation?

Macedonian citizens have the right to a fair election campaign during which they would learn about the real political offer  that will be available at the forthcoming election. This especially refers to the two main political rivals: VMRO-DPMNE  and SDSM, or their leaders Nikola Gruevski and Zoran Zaev.

 

In view of the fierce accusations of crime and corruption in the last few years and especially during election campaigns, it would be vital to ensure fair and democratic election by organising public confrontation on television between Gruevski and Zaev, where they could confront their election programmes and present their mutual accusations. The failure to participate in such public confrontation will send a clear message that the incumbent government does not want to face Macedonian voters and hear their opinion. For the sake and interest of Macedonia its citizens have the right to learn the truth. Gruevski and Zaev will compete in the fourth election district where they are both the list carriers for VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM respectively. Nevertheless, the television duel, which Gruevski has been avoiding for the past 11 years, is of vital importance for Macedonia, its citizens and democracy. Poverty reduction, overarching social policy, eliminating the dispersed higher education studies in every Macedonian town, preventing emigration of the young population and fighting unemployment should be the priorities of the new government, whereby a peaceful and democratic change of power will be the key challenge for Macedonia.

 

Ljubljana, 22 November 2016                                                                                    

                                                                     



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