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Macedonia - Election 1998

From 1995 to 1997, tensions between the country’s Slav Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanian minority became the focus of heated political debate. Ethnic Albanians demanded proportional political representation for minorities at both local and national levels; the use of the Albanian language in public education; the right to fly the Albanian flag; and greater access to public resources. Many ethnic Slavs believed these demands reflected separatist desires rather than a wish to participate more actively in public affairs.

By 1997, public confidence in government and elected officials had fallen dramatically due to unremitting economic hardship and increased tensions between the country’s Slav Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanian minority. The weakness of FYROM’s political institutions raised the possibility of violence to settle these difficult matters.

In November 1998 parliamentary elections, the SDSM lost its majority. A new coalition government emerged under the leadership of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). The initial coalition included the ethnic Albanian Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

President Gligorov was the first president of a former Yugoslav republic to relinquish office. In accordance with the terms of the Macedonian constitution, his presidency ended in November 1999 after 8 years in office, which included surviving a car bombing assassination attempt on October 3 in 1995. He was succeeded by former Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajkovski (VMRO-DPMNE), who defeated Tito Petkovski (SDSM) in a second-round run-off election for the presidency on November 14, 1999. Trajkovski's election was confirmed by a December 5, 1999 partial re-vote in 230 polling stations, which the Macedonian Supreme Court mandated due to election irregularities.

Gligorov was seriously injured in a 1995 assassination attempt, suffering head injuries and losing an eye in a car bomb explosion. No suspects were ever arrested, but he continued his presidency until his term ended in 1999, becoming the world's oldest head of state.

The country's third parliamentary elections were held in October and November 1998 and resulted in an opposition victory and a change of government. By the October 1998 parliamentary elections, things had changed dramatically. First, while a conflict had already erupted in Kosovo to the north, the Dayton Agreement ending the Bosnian conflict had enhanced regional stability for about three years. This shifted the focus of public attention from national survival to economic recovery. Meanwhile, ethnic relations worsened somewhat in Macedonia, especially following efforts to block the opening of an unofficial Albanian-language university in Tetovo in 1996 and riots which followed the illegal raising of the Albanian flag over municipal centers in Tetovo and Gostivar in 1997.

The parliamentary commission investigating police conduct during the July 1997 demonstration, in which three persons were killed, completed its report in March. The commission concluded that police action in Gostivar to remove Albanian and Turkish flags from the municipal building was justified legally. In the riots that followed the police action, the commission determined that certain individuals and groups had exceeded their authority. The commission added that certain police officers searched homes illegally. However, the commission did not identify those persons responsible for abuses. Instead, it called on the Ministry of Interior to take responsibility for identifying those responsible and to take legal action against them.

Rather than exacerbate tensions, however, the previously nationalist Albanian and Macedonian political parties found the espousal of extreme nationalism to win an election to be a futile exercise in Macedonia. Instead, they decided to form an electoral coalition with each other, brokered by a new, economically oriented party of intellectuals led by former Yugoslav official Vasil Tupurkovski and called the Democratic Alliance (DA). In elections that were significantly more free and fair than their predecessors, this coalition successfully ousted the SDSM from power. As the SDSM had done with the PDP, VMRO-DPMNE invited the PDPA, which had merged with the ethnically Albanian Democratic Peoples Party to form the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), into the new government.

When, on October 18, the citizens of Macedonia voted for a new parliament, they not only had choices between extremes but also among several moderate candidates. The more open environment reflected growing political maturity in a country beset by instability—both internal and external—since becoming an independent state in 1991.

Approximately 1,200 people representing political parties, electoral coalitions and independent candidates competed for the 120 seats in the Macedonian Assembly. Eighty-five of those seats were contested on a majority basis in districts, while the remaining 35 seats were determined by proportional voting for party, coalition and independent lists across the country. The mixed system represents an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to abandon a solely majority-based system viewed as favoring those in power. The newly established electoral districts were more consistent demographically, although ethnic Albanians continued to allege that they were still left somewhat under-represented.

The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the successor to the former League of Communists, ran essentially on its own in the elections. The main challenge to the SDSM came from an unlikely coalition of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), named after the 19th century extremist Macedonian liberation group, and the newly formed and politically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA). A secondary challenger was the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the product of a recent merger of two moderate political parties. The election picture was complicated by the continued existence of a practically separate polity in Macedonia, the Albanian community which constitutes at least 23 percent of the country's population and has its own political parties. For these elections, however, moderates in the Macedonian Government formed a coalition with more nationalistic Albanian parties.

The campaign environment was open and competitive, with fewer government controls on access to information than before. In addition, election administration was more transparent, with opposition parties able to participate more fully. Given the close results of the first round, campaigning in districts with second-round voting was notably more negative and tense. In addition, there were some problems with the timely release of results, raising suspicions about the ruling parties willingness to fully respect the outcome. Problems like family- or group-voting were evident, but there were few signs of intentional manipulation during the voting. In the second round, however, there were some reports of party representatives checking voter registration cards outside polling stations, as well as more ominous proxy voting practices.

The VMRO-DPMNE/DA coalition emerged victorious, and the ruling SDSM conceded defeat. By the time the new governing coalition came into power, however, the situation in Kosovo eroded to the point that, only months later, the massive NATO air campaign put Macedonia in the precarious position of receiving hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees and assisting NATO in its operation against Yugoslav/ Serbian forces immediately to the north. While fearing Belgrade as well, many Macedonians also sympathized with their fellow, Eastern Orthodox South Slavs to the north and feared the implications of an Albanian-run Kosovo for their own ethnically diverse country. In addition, the preoccupation with Kosovo left the new government of Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski, VMRO-DPMNE’s leader, with little ability to implement campaign promises, especially in the field of economic reform.

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Page last modified: 11-12-2016 18:40:10 ZULU