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 view of the second round of local election scheduled for 29 October 2017. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Macedonia – 2017 local election: The citizens restored the 'stolen' country and democracy” are presented below.
On 15 October 2017 the first round of the sixth local election was held in the Republic of Macedonia. The mayors and members of councils of 81 municipalities were elected. The voter turnout in the first round was 48.95%. The runoff will take place on 29 October 2017.
The results of the first round have shown that most of Macedonian citizens are determined to continue the process of changes and reforms that started on 31 May 2017 with the formation of the new coalition government led by Zoran Zaev (SDSM) and composed of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia(SDSM), the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI-BDI) and the Alliance of Albanians (DR-ADP, UNITETI, NDP).
In the first round of local election mayors were elected in 46 municipalities, of which 38 from SDSM, 3 from VMRO-DPMNE, 2 from DUI-BDI, 2 independent candidates and 1 from DPTM. Among 46 newly elected mayors there are 44 men and only 2 women.
Among the elected municipal and city council members there were 545 from SDSM, 429 from VMRO-DPMNE, 133 from DUI-BDI, 63 from BESA and 60 from the Alliance of Albanians. 71 council members come from other 11 political parties and 35 independent candidates.
The State Electoral Commission (DIK) of the Republic of Macedonia ensured undisturbed and transparent work, so the first round of election was carried out in a free and fair atmosphere, as was confirmed by international (OSCE/ODIHR) and domestic observers.
The local election in the Republic of Macedonia was a test for its new government and for its citizens who had to choose once again between democracy and authoritarianism and vote on the future of Macedonia. Both political blocks (SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE) led a fierce fight in the election campaign to convince the citizens either to continue the political changes that started with early parliamentary election on 11 December 2016 when Nikola Gruevski's (VMRO-DPMNE) regime was overthrown, or to enable the return to the old regime with the absolute power vested in the Nikola Gruevski-Sašo Mijalkov duoand their VMRO-DPMNE. The citizens of Macedonia with the decisive majority opted for freedom, better future and continuation of changes and reforms, which represents a strong impetus and support for the new government of the Republic of Macedonia.
The citizens have shown that Gruevski's regime and his VMRO-DPMNE can be overthrown without any violence, simply by using a pen in the polling booth. By placing their trust in the leading coalition gathered around SDSM they definitely defeated Gruevski’s regime and started a new epoch in which there will be no more illegal wiretapping, crime, corruption, nepotism, media control, enormous poverty, massive emigration and fear among the citizens.
Analysts have noted that Macedonian citizens have shown a high degree of awareness, political maturity and responsibility in the first round of local election and can serve as an example to other nations in the region of how a hardened and hated regime can be legally and legitimately overthrown at elections with a pen in the hand. This can be a strong signal and message to the citizens of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other states in the region – that they can use elections to return a “stolen” country and democracy to their legitimate owners, i.e. the citizens. It is important to establish and build the rule of law institutions and regain citizens' trust in those institutions.
Once it has started, no one can stop the process of liberating the “captured and stolen” Macedonian state. Gruevski's scenario was to stage a crisis before the local election, which would lead to destabilisation of Macedonia and show the incapacity of the new government to ensure peace and stability. Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE would thus present themselves as a stability factor and win the local election, just to force another early parliamentary election afterwards. The Republic of Serbia also actively participated in this scenario, especially after the agreement on neighbourhood cooperation between Macedonia and Bulgaria was signed. The Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) and Ivica Dačić (SPS) duo staged a wiretapping affair in which Macedonian security services were accused of allegedly wiretapping the employees of the Embassy of Serbia in Skopje and even some Serbian officials. The aim of all Serbia's activities was to destabilise Macedonia and help Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE to create negative atmosphere among Macedonian citizens in order to stir their reluctance to the agreement on neighbourhood cooperation between Macedonia and Bulgaria. This would enable the return of Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE to power. However, the results of the local election have shown that the citizens decisively support the new Macedonian government and therefore also the above agreement. The fact that Zoran Zaev and SDSM came to power in Macedonia does not suit Aleksandar Vučić's regime which has become more similar to Gruevski's regime, so Vučić is aware that he may expect a similar destiny. The new Macedonian government and Zoran Zaev did not fall into this trap set by the Vučić-Dačić duo, nor did they react to the staged wiretapping affair, and so Vučić and Dačić experienced their first serious defeat and fiasco in the regional and international political scene. This sent a clear warning to the West that it cannot count on Vučić’s slippery politics. The Vučić-Dačić team have obviously found their political inspiration in their teachers Vojislav Šešelj (SRS) and Slobodan Milošević (SPS).
Judicial reform in the Republic of Macedonia is of paramount importance for building the rule of law institutions and restoring citizens' trust in those institutions. The rule of law is the main guardian and guarantor of civil freedoms which have been seriously violated and jeopardized for the last 12 years in Macedonia. The EU report prepared by the Senior Experts' Group on systemic Rule of Law issues led by Reinhard Priebe clearly shows what needs to be done in the justice reform process in the Republic of Macedonia. This will trigger the processes that will lead to building the rule of law institutions and dismantling the regime of Gruevski and VMRO-DPMNE that has left such devastating consequences in every segment of Macedonian state and society. Judicial institutions must ensure fair court trials in order to establish responsibility and sanction those who violated the law during the last 12 years when they were in power. The Special Prosecution Office (SJO) of the Republic of Macedonia plays a very difficult and responsible role in this process: it has to establish responsibility and ensure the prosecution of responsible individuals.
Gruevski and his collaborators will have to face severe charges from the Special Prosecution Office. A part of VMRO-DPMNE members and high officials have already distanced themselves from Gruevski, trying to get rid of the encumbrances from crimes that were committed by the regime, which opens the possibility for establishing a new conservative political party which is currently needed in Macedonian political scene.
In such a multi-ethnic society as in Macedonian it is vital to establish ethnic harmony and balance between all ethnic communities (Macedonians, Albanians, Serb, Turks, Vlachs, Roma, Bosniaks etc.). However, this can only be achieved through a healthy integration policy that takes into account the differences while at the same time bearing in mind that only their unity can ensure prosperity to the Republic of Macedonia and all its citizens. Therefore it is of key importance to establish the rule of law as a safeguard of citizens' rights and to promote the new political culture led by Prime Minister Zaev. Macedonia is a country of many diversities, so it is important to manage them in such a way that they can be used as an asset to achieve progress and prosperity. Unlike all previous governments, the new Zaev's government is making efforts to achieve equality among all the citizens of Macedonia.
The new government of the Republic of Macedonia should dedicate more attention and funds to the development of local communities that have been neglected for so many years and are now facing severe problems. It is of immense importance to establish cooperation and support between the central government and the newly elected mayors in resolving the accumulated local problems. This local election has shown once again that that the personalities presented as candidates and their programmes play the key role in the election race. The newly elected mayors and municipal council members will have to deal with local topics and problems faced by the citizens in their local environment on a daily basis rather than with “high” politics.
Analysts believe that successfully performed local election (first and second round) will represent an important step on Macedonia's road to NATO and EU full membership and show the stability and decisiveness of its citizens to embark upon the Euro-Atlantic integration process. Macedonia is expected to receive a positive opinion from the European Commission and to start the EU membership negotiations. Clearly Macedonia has ended the period of self-isolation and has fully entered the Euro-Atlantic integration and good neighbourhood cooperation – this is the only way to ensure a secure future and better prospects for this country which is located at the geographical and political crossroads.
Ljubljana, 27 October, 2017