1998 Elections in Macedonia
1998 Elections in Macedonia
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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Report / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

1998 Elections in Macedonia

Macedonians go to the polls on 18 October 1998 in the first of two rounds of voting to elect 120 members of the country's parliament.

Executive Summary

Macedonians go to the polls on 18 October 1998 in the first of two rounds of voting to elect 120 members of the country’s parliament.  The forthcoming poll is Macedonia’s third general election since the disintegration of one-party communist rule.  Moreover, it takes place in the shadow of ethnic violence between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the neighbouring Serbian province of Kosovo and political instability in neighbouring Albania.  Although Macedonia has managed to avoid the violent conflict which has afflicted the rest of the former Yugoslavia, its experience of democracy has so far been mixed.  Politics is divided along ethnic lines and the last multi-party elections in 1994 were marred by accusations of fraud with two major parties boycotting the second round of voting.

After four years of debate, parliament adopted a new electoral system in July 1998. Under the new legislation, parliamentarians are elected by a mixture of a majoritarian, constituency-based system and proportional representation.  Of a total of 120 seats, 85 are elected by the former and 35 by the latter system.  The introduction of proportional representation ensures that a significant number of minority parties will continue to participate in the government.  However, the limited number of seats to be allocated by this method should ensure that the political scene is not excessively cluttered by small parties.  Meanwhile, a strong ethnic Macedonian party is likely to continue to act as an anchor in Macedonian politics.

Although, the election laws received the overall support from the parties, there remain some areas of contention. For example, opposition parties consider the media regulations to be lax and fear that there is insufficient education of the voters.  In addition, ethnic Albanian political parties have accused the government of deliberately drawing the boundaries between electoral districts in such a way as to dilute the voting strength of their natural supporters.  Constituencies which are predominantly comprised of ethnic Albanians have on average some 20,000 voters, whereas, constituencies which are predominantly comprised of ethnic Macedonians tend to average 16,000 voters.

Under current circumstances, no single political party appears able to win an absolute majority of the vote in the next parliament.  Coalition-building is therefore the order of the day. Most electoral alliances, however, have no moorings to the traditional left, right or centre. The electorate, in return, has very tenuous loyalties to the parties with opinion polls pointing to a high number of “undecided” voters.

The next government will almost certainly be a coalition dominated by either the ethnic Macedonian nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, which formed the largest party after the 1990 elections, or the SDSM, the former Communists, who have dominated Macedonian politics since 1994.  Here, even though SDSM is likely to win fewer votes than VMRO-DPMNE, it is probably in a stronger position, since it can work better with the ethnic Albanians parties and already has experience of negotiating a governing coalition.

The degree to which the elections are considered “free and fair” by the general public and international observers will be a good indicator of Macedonia’s political maturity.  If all political parties endorse the election results, an important political milestone will have been achieved.  The balance between ethnic Macedonian treatment of their ethnic Albanian citizens and ethnic Albanian willingness to compromise is the key to preserving internal stability.  Ethnic Albanian parties must continue to participate in Macedonia’s political life or the country will see further deepening of its ethnic divisions.  Much of this depends upon how much tolerance the government shows the Albanians, as well as the pragmatism of Albanian leaders. A VMRO-DPMNE-dominated coalition which attempts to exclude ethnic Albanian parties could upset the current balance in ethnic relations.

With this in mind, ICG recommends the following:

  • Public confidence in the integrity and secrecy of the ballot must be restored in Macedonia.  The international community should ensure that any declaration of “fair and free” elections is supported by an evaluation of the entire electoral framework rather than just polling day procedures.
  • Should the election results be contested due to alleged electoral fraud or manipulation, the international community should work closely with the accredited election observers to investigate all complaints and written explanations of all conclusions made available to the general public as quickly as possible.
  • The international community should encourage the new government to push aside its campaign rhetoric once the polling is complete. The first priority should be to form a working coalition rather than settle old political scores, especially through highly charged public hearings.
  • The importance of cordial inter-ethnic relations should be key to forming a new government.  Given the current situation in neighbouring Kosovo and Albania, the new government must ensure that it does not encourage radicalisation of the sizeable ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia by deliberately excluding ethnic Albanian political parties from power.  International assistance should be predicated on the new government’s commitment to improving inter-ethnic relations.
  • At least half of the new parliament may be comprised of candidates who have no prior legislative experience. It is important that these new legislators receive adequate training.  The international community should encourage European and US political parties and associations to initiate contacts with the newly-elected officials.

Skopje-Sarajevo, 9 October 1998

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