The Macedonian Elections: Prospects for a Democratic Future?

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The Macedonian Elections: Prospects for a Democratic Future?

Who won the parliamentary elections in Macedonia on 15 September 2002? Judging by abundant international assessments, democracy is the biggest winner in the latest elections in Macedonia where memories about violent expression of political preferences are still fresh. This is for five good reasons:

1) Regardless of fears of violent clashes on the eve of the elections, no major incidents overshadowed the vote. The overall peaceful character of the election campaign and the absence of controversial episodes on the day of the ballot are a serious achievement in a society where ethnic reconciliation after the recent crisis has not fully materialised.

2) Contrary to experience from previous elections, this time the vote was on the whole free of fraud. The massive presence of international observers made sure that the voting was “free and fair” and the election outcome was not manipulated.

3) There was not only a rotation of parties in power but also the election losers conceded defeat immediately after the preliminary results became known thus accepting the will of the voters and recognising that “democracy is the only game in town.”

4) Contrary to expectations, Macedonian citizens came out to exercise their right to vote in huge numbers. With a voter turnout of about 70 per cent, the population sent a clear message that the future of the Macedonian state will be decided by its people in a peaceful contest of ideas about its future governance.

5) Moreover, ethnic tension in the country did not escalate as a result of the election campaigning. It seems political leaders in Skopje have learned the lesson that the rhetoric of nationalism and hate does not pay. In this sense, what is more important is not so much the electoral victory of the moderate political coalition led by the Social Democrats (SDSM) of Branko Crvenkovski but the positive change in the electoral rhetoric of SDSM itself in comparison with previous elections in Macedonia, including the presidential election in 1999.

No doubt, this is all good news. The bad news is that all these arguments are solely based on the respect of the democratic procedure during the elections. Elections alone, however, cannot address the democratic deficit in a country. There are three arguments here:

1) The first is the Ahmeti factor in Macedonian politics. The former leader of the Albanian Liberation Army from the time of the crisis in 2001 received an unquestionable political mandate from the majority of the ethnic Albanian citizens in Macedonia to represent them in the parliament and, if possible, in the government. A sizeable portion of Macedonian citizens, however, questions the legitimacy of Ahmeti’s participation into parliament and government arguing that his entry into politics was not by means of elections alone but by means of violence a year ago. In that sense, the Macedonian society has still to think about what is legal, what is fair, and what is right in domestic politics, irrespective of external views.

2) The second is the corruption factor in Macedonian politics. This is perhaps the sole most important issue that determined the disastrous election performance of the political parties voted out of government, VMRO-DPMNE of Lubcho Georgievski and the Democratic Party of Albanians of Arben Xhaferi. Close observers of the political processes in Macedonia remind us that the corruption record of the previous SDSM-led governments between 1992-1998 was not very clean either. When the party clientele becomes more important than state policy and when the gap between the political elite and the general public widens, the news about the victory of democracy does sound very convincing.

3) The third is the public confidence factor in Macedonian politics. Popular tru st in the democratic institutions of the Macedonian state including the government, the parliament and the local authorities was as low as 11.7 per cent, 12.5 per cent and 16.9 per cent respectively in the beginning of 2002 (see International IDEA’s South East Europe Public Agenda Survey). It will take a lot more than free and fair elections to restore public confidence in the public bodies of the country.

No doubt, this is all bad news for the legitimacy of the political regime in Macedonia. Democracy is more than elections and governance is more than forming a government. What is important now is to institute the right policies that can overcome the democratic deficit. The answer is obvious: reforms, reforms, and reforms. If not for the sake of democracy, then for the sake of winning the elections the next time when the voters are asked to choose.

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