Macedonia: “New Faces in Skopje”
Macedonia: “New Faces in Skopje”
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Report / Europe & Central Asia 5 minutes

Macedonia: “New Faces in Skopje”

The recent parliamentary elections and the change of government in Macedonia in many respects are a landmark in the country’s development.

Executive Summary

The recent parliamentary elections and the change of government in Macedonia in many respects are a landmark in the country’s development. The smooth transition of power from one political camp to another and the fact that the “radicals” from both major ethnic groups rather than the more moderate parties form the new government are significant in themselves. If the new government manages to solve Macedonia’s problems, it might also have repercussions throughout the region. This report, prepared by ICG’s field analyst in Skopje, looks back and draws lessons from the elections and the formation of the new government, looks ahead at the key policy changes facing the new administration, and assesses the capacity of the ruling coalition to meet those challenges.

The third multi-party parliamentary elections in Macedonia were held on 18 October and 1 November 1998. As a result, Macedonia experienced the first real change of government since it declared independence.

The elections were won by the “Coalition for Changes,” which is made up of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA). They won a total of 62 out of 120 seats in the new parliament (49 for VMRO–DPMNE and 13 for DA). The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, which had dominated the government for the past six years, won 27 seats. The two major ethnic Albanian parties, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), had concluded an electoral alliance and won 14 and 10 seats, respectively. The Liberal Democrats won four mandates, and the Socialist Party and the Union of Roma, one each. Due to irregularities, one seat had yet to be filled as this report was released.

Although the elections were regarded as generally fair and democratic, there were still irregularities. In several constituencies, the vote had to be repeated as a result. Ahead of the next elections, those and other issues need to be addressed and rectified. Furthermore, the election law should be amended to provide for a more proportional representation, and the electoral districts should be redrawn in a way that is acceptable to all parties and all ethnic groups.

Following the elections, a new government was formed by the VMRO–DPMNE, DA, and DPA. VMRO–DPMNE leader Ljubco Georgievski was elected prime minister on 30 November 1998. In the new government, the VMRO–DPMNE holds 14 ministries, the DA has eight, and the DPA, five.

Since both VMRO–DPMNE and DPA are widely regarded as nationalistic and radical, there were concerns about Macedonia’s stability after the elections. However, it appears that there is cause for cautious optimism. Both parties have toned down their rhetoric recently, and the VMRO–DPMNE in particular seems to have sidelined the more radical elements in its leadership. The party stressed economic, rather than “national,” issues during the recent election campaign and refrained from open attacks on Macedonia’s ethnic minorities. Besides, the DA is generally believed to have a moderating influence within the new government. It appears that decisions on more sensitive inter-ethnic issues have been postponed for the time being. Ultimately, the issue of the ethnic Albanians’ status needs to be resolved lest Macedonia’s stability be put into question. Resolving those problems will largely depend on the good will of all three coalition partners and on their ability to reach and defend necessary compromises. Inter-ethnic issues, more than anything else, will make or break the new government coalition.

The new government stated as its top priorities: economic reform and reconstruction; reduction of unemployment; reform of the social welfare, pension, and health systems; fight against corruption; improvement of inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia; further integration into European and Transatlantic structures; and improved relations with Macedonia’s neighbours. But the government has yet to announce concrete plans for solving the country’s problems.

The most pressing problems that Macedonia currently faces are in the realms of the economy and social policy. Unemployment is extremely high, the social security systems are on the brink of collapse, and the economy in general is in need of deep structural reforms. Foreign investment needs to be attracted, too. ICG recommends that a comprehensive plan for economic and social reforms be worked out with the help of international experts. This plan needs to be implemented strictly and without delay. Since Macedonia will not be able to finance ambitious reform projects on its own, the international community should provide financial and other assistance on the understanding that the new government will stick to a mutually agreed plan.

The second major task which the government has to tackle is the improvement of inter-ethnic relations. The ethnic Albanian minority demands a status similar to the one enjoyed by the ethnic Macedonian majority. This includes Albanian-language tuition at all levels, the legalisation of the Albanian-language “Tetovo University,” and a proportional representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration. For the Albanian-language university, a solution must be found which guarantees that its diploma are compatible with those of Macedonia’s state universities and that ethnic Albanian students receive proper Macedonian-language tuition in order to avoid further segregation. Boosting the number of ethnic Albanians in the state administration will at least partly depend on the financial possibilities of the state.

ICG recommends that the new government decentralise the state administration, which is currently highly centralised. Municipal authorities need to be given more power and financial means in order to deal with problems that can best be solved at a local level. In areas mainly populated by ethnic minorities, decentralisation could also increase trust in and identification with the state. For successful decentralisation, municipal authorities need to be trained by experts from countries with experience in this field.

With regards to foreign policy, the new government needs to bring Macedonia’s legislative, economic, and administrative framework in line with European standards. Further integration into European and Transatlantic structures is still a long way off, but the international community should consider assisting Macedonia in achieving this aim if reforms in Macedonia are pursued seriously and start showing the desired effect. Thus, talks on an association agreement with the European Union should start once the basic conditions are met.

The new government also needs to improve relations with its neighbours. Differences over “symbolic issues” (with Greece over Macedonia’s name, and with Bulgaria on the issue of Macedonian nationality and language) can be resolved if both sides show good will and are ready to compromise. Ultimately, this will improve bilateral and regional co-operation and improve stability in the Balkans. Relations with Yugoslavia are likely to deteriorate, especially after the new government’s decision to allow NATO troops on its territory. Bilateral relations with Albania are improving, and further improvement will mainly depend on the improvement of inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia.

The new Macedonian government is faced with an immense task. All partners in the ruling coalition need to restrain themselves and their followers if the government’s agenda is to be fulfilled at least partly. Otherwise, economic and social conditions may further deteriorate and more extremist tendencies may take over. In its own interest, the international community should assist the new government where necessary and possible in order to maintain stability in this sensitive part of the Balkans.

Skopje/Brussels, 08 January 1999

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.