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Macedonia - Election 1999

On 31 October 1999, Macedonian voters went to the polls to choose a new president. Six candidates entered the contest, and the inability of any of them to win a majority of the votes cast required a second round on November 14 between the top two vote-getters. Boris Trajkovski of the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolu- tionary Organization Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) edged out his opponent, Tito Petkovski, of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), although irregularities forced second-round reruns on December 5 and were used by Petkovski supporters as a pretext for questioning the integrity of the result.

The election was a significant event, despite the limited powers of the presidential office in Macedonia, in that the winner would succeed the retiring Kiro Gligorov, who had held the office for the entire decade since multi-party politics was introduced in 1990 and independence from the disintegrating Yugoslavia was asserted in 1991. The election also was viewed as a test of this multi-ethnic countrys stability in light of the NATO-Yugoslav conflict earlier this year regarding neighboring Kosovo, as well as Macedonias own democratic development since the parliamentary elections of one year ago brought a new political coalition into power. The president has come to be viewed in Macedonia as a bridge between the countrys ethnic communities.

Ironically, the candidate of the previously nationalistic VMRO ran a campaign preaching tolerance, while that of the SDSM the succes- sor to the League of Communists played heavily on anti-Albanian sentiment. This election, from the campaign to balloting, took place under conditions that were incrementally more free and fair than previous Macedonian elections. This improvement, however, served partly to highlight those regions of the country where electoral problems traditionally occurred and did so again.

In addition, while the participation of the sizable ethnic Albanian community in a country-wide election was viewed positively, the decisive nature of their overwhelming second-round vote for Trajkovski over first-round leader Petkovski produced potentially destabilizing social tensions, at least in the short term.

The campaign period went relatively smoothly. Despite changeovers in the state-run broadcast and print media in early 1999, as well as the plethora of vague and overlapping media laws and regulations, coverage was viewed as reasonably fair, with enhanced diversity provided by several independent media outlets. There report- edly was some greater and better-timed coverage of Boris Trajkovski of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE on Mace- donia Radio and Television (MRTV). Campaign adds were aired, and a candidate debate was organized. Similarly, the candidates and their political parties were able to use designated advertising space for their posters, although, as usual, posters were plastered just about anywhere. The candidates could, and many did, hold rallies in downtown Skopje and around the country. There were a few reported incidents during the campaign, but none were of major significance.

Trajkovski portrayed himself as representing continuity and stability in Macedonia, arguing that a president from the governing coalition leader would ensure progress. Tupurkovski, with a more humorous tone, took a similar line except, rather than associating himself with the ruling coalition, he focused on the need for economic revitalization and reached out more to the ethnic communities, especially Roma.

Petkovski, in contrast, played off his name by espousing five (pet in Macedonian) principles and expressed anti-Albanian sentiments gener- ated by a views that VMRO-DPMNE had, since coming to power, compromised Macedonian interests vis-a- vis both Albanian and Bulgarian interests. Andov, whose campaign was significantly smaller, played on these same sentiments, especially in regard to Macedonian fears of the implications of a potentially independent Kosovo for their own countrys unity. The Albanian candidates, for their part, barely engaged in a public campaign, as the DPA was viewed as having taken most of the support of ethnic Albanians from the struggling PDP, while having no hope of getting votes from beyond the Albanian community which would be necessary to advance to the second round.

While Petkovski had a sizable first-round lead, it was clear that the ethnic Albanian vote would go over- whelmingly for Trajkovski. Trajkovski, of course, had no guarantee that the Albanian community would partici- pate fully in the second round, but the real quest for both candidates was to obtain the vote of Tupurkovski and Andov supporters. Both were somewhat unpredictable, given their past with the same League of Communists from which the SDSM emerged, as well as their shaky coalition relationships with VMRO. Neither specifically endorsed a candidate. Tupurkovski argued instead that it was democratic for citizens to exercise their right not to vote at all, indicating that he might try to keep voter turnout below 50 percent and reenter the race when a whole new set of elections would be required. When the DPAs Arben Xhaferi announced that he felt Albanians should participate in second-round balloting, that scenario seemed unlikely. Andov supporters were predicted to vote mainly for Petkovski, given the anti-Albanian sentiments upon which both candidates played.

The 14 November 1999 election day was largely similar to its first-round counterpart, except that in the same problem areas of western Macedonia irregularities were not eliminated but magnified, with widespread reports of polling committees essentially committing election fraud. Some OSCE observers reported examples of turnouts at some polling stations from one time of day to another that could only be explained by ballot box-stuffing. Extremely high turnouts at some stations also raised suspicions; in some places the number of votes cast report- edly exceeded registered voters.

Amidst street protests by Petkovski supporters claiming electoral irregularities in Albanian-inhabited parts of western Macedonia, the State Election Commission and the Supreme Court of Macedonia ruled that voting be repeated on 05 December 1999 at 230 polling stations. The outcome, however, was essentially the same. While Macedonia may be continuing to move along the right track, these elections were a disappointment despite their generally good organization.

Irregularities, whether alleged or real, demonstrated that a comfortable balance between individual integration and collective segregation for ethnic communities had yet to be found, even though Macedonia as a whole tried harder than most its neighbors in trying to find that balance and maintain peace. The international community played a major role in helping all sides to find that balance in a democratic context, and in ensuring Macedonias continued stability in a still unstable corner of Europe.





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