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Macedonia - Election 2016

Macedonia's nationalist VMRO-DPMNE led by ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won 51 of 120 seats in parliament in Sunday's election. The opposition Social Democrats won 49 seats in a tight-fought affair. The State Election Commission said the conservative coalition led by Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE won 38.06 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of the left-leaning coalition, headed by opposition leader Zoran Zaev's Social Democrats, which took 36.69 percent. The main ethnic Albanian political force - the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) - which has long been junior coalition partner in coalition with the VMRO-DPMNE, came third with 10 seats, giving VMRO-DPMNE a very fragile parliamentary majority. The Macedonian State Election Commission said 67 percent of registered voters participated in Sunday's election, one of the highest turnouts in recent national elections in Macedonia.

What looked like a typical internal Balkan conflict developed into a new chapter in the standoff between Russia and the West. At least that is what Moscow said. "The events in Macedonia are being orchestrated from the outside quite blatantly", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on 20 May 2015. At the same time, he acknowledged Moscow's support for the conservative government in Skopje.

Police in Macedonia said 31 January 2015 they would charge four people, including the leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, with trying to topple the government. A senior government official said that Zoran Zaev was defiant and threw the blame back at the government. The prospect of him going to jail threatens to further deepen divisions in the former Yugoslav republic and the Social Democrats had boycotted parliament for almost a year as they said the last parliamentary election was fraudulent.

The country's wire-tapping scandal that broke in 2015 involved reports that the government of Macedonia tapping the phones of as many as 20,000 people, including dozens of journalists over several years. The wire-tapping scandal prompted questions about how tightly the government controls the media, judges, and elections during Gruevskiís nine years in power. Macedonia is in a crisis. Although the country is a democracy, at present it does not have the normal functioning of a democracy.

On April 21, 2015, an armed group of approximately 40 people seized weapons, ammunition, and radio communication supplies from a border police station in Goshince near the border with Kosovo. On May 9-10, 2015, the Macedonian police authorities carried out a police action in Kumanovo, ostensibly to recover the stolen equipment. This action resulted in the deaths of eight Macedonian police officers and 10 members of the armed group. Although the motives of the armed group remain unclear, the government of Macedonia classifies the incident as an act of terrorism and charged three suspects with leading a terrorist organization and 26 with participating in a terrorist organization.

In addition, there were several minor incidents that could be classified as terrorist acts. For example, unknown perpetrators placed an improvised explosive device at a government building housing the main court on February 18. The device failed to detonate properly and caused minimal property damage. Small explosions also caused minor property damage in April next to the Government Building in Skopje, in May near ethnic Albanian political party DUIís headquarters in Tetovo, in July 2015 in a parking garage in Kumanovo, in July at the Skopje City Police Station, and in October in a residential neighborhood of Skopje. The police have not identified suspects for any of these incidents, all of which remain under investigation.

Wiretapping, death threats, and politically motivated prosecutions have all contributed to pushing Macedonia to the bottom in Europe in terms of freedom of the press. In an 29 April 2015 report on press freedom around the world, US-based Freedom House rated Macedonia 125th out of a total of 199 countries surveyed. The result puts the Western Balkan state in the uncomfortable company of countries like Bhutan, Kuwait, and Uganda when it came to restricting freedom of the press. The country's ranking in a separate international survey by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) -- the World Press Freedom Index -- fell from 34th place in 2009 to 117th in 2015.

Macedonia had been plagued by increasing ethnic violence and anti-government protests as the government came out in support of building the Turkish Stream pipeline through its territory. Violence has erupted at both anti-government protests in which dozens of police officers were injured and in armed attacks against police by gunmen. Macedonia's ethnic divide between Albanians and Macedonians came to a head on May 9, when an attack by Albanian gunmen in the town of Kumanovo left at least 18 people dead.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and main opposition leader Zoran Zaev began talks mediated by European Union officials 19 May 2015 in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis in the country. Pressure on Gruevski had been building since a wire-tapping scandal broke earlier in 2015, prompting questions about how tightly the government controlled the media, judges, and elections during his nine years in power. Zaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia has vowed the demonstrations would continue until the prime minister steps down.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) in the country were allegedly determined to see the overthrow of Nikola Gruevski's government over what has been seen as a lack of cooperation by not imposing sanctions on Russia. Among these groups is the 'Open Society Foundations,' which is one of the many NGOs set up by investor George Soros, while US government agency USAID also runs various programs in Macedonia.

Lavrov suggested the political discontent was being stoked as part of a wider geopolitical game, aimed at destabilizing the country, and subsequently scuppering any plans for Russia's Turkish stream gas line to pass through Macedonia. "There are attempts to pressure Gruevski's government for refusing to join in on sanctions against Russia and for backing the Turkish Stream [gas] pipeline [construction]," he said.

Gruevski found himself under huge pressure from the opposition in the country. There was evidence that he lost European and American support because of the wiretapping scandal and the violence in Kumanovo. His nine-year hold on power is often criticized as authoritarian by domestic and Western media and politicians.

On 02 June 2015 the European Union brokered a deal in which it was agreed that by the end of April 2016 year, there should be early elections. It was important to prepare the country with sound electoral codes, a revised voting list, and respecting the rights of minorities. It will be furthermore important to accept all the recommendations being given by the European Commission when it came to the independence of the judiciary.

Macedonia's parliament approved a cabinet reshuffle on 11 Novmeber 2015 that includes members of the left-wing opposition in the government, part of a Western-brokered deal that ended a months-long political crisis. The new government, which was approved by parliament on November 11, includes Social Democrat Oliver Spasovski as interior minister and gives the Labor Ministry portfolio to the opposition. The deal would also see Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party resigning by mid-January 2016 and early parliamentary elections held on 24 April 2016.

Early parliamentary elections on 24 April 2016 were brokered by the European Union to end the anti-government protests in May 2015. One hundred twenty-three seats in the National Assembly are up for a vote in a mixed-member electoral system. Amid ongoing political tension and challenges resulting from the global migrant crisis, allegations of fraud and corruption in past elections will put the spotlight on the integrity of the process.

Violent protests that led to the ransacking of Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanovís office on April 15, 2016 were the culmination of public anger over a long-running scandal in which the government is accused of illegally wiretapping thousands of citizens' phone conversations. The outrage bubbled over into the streets of the capital, Skopje, just hours after Ivanov said during a nationwide televised address on April 12 that he was ending a special investigation into the individuals -- including former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski -- allegedly involved in the wiretapping. That effectively pardoned more than 50 officials from any possible wrongdoing.

U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Jess Baily said Ivanovís decision will not only impede upcoming early elections that were scheduled to defuse the crisis, but will hinder Macedoniaís efforts to join NATO and the EU.

EU officials were focused on the successful holding of the elections, which were originally scheduled for April 24 but postponed until June 5 after complaints by the opposition of unfair conditions.

On 16 May 2016 Macedonia officially launched the start of the campaign period for elections that were scheduled for June 5. But only one party was participating -- the one heading the governing coalition of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE. The opposition Social Democrats have announced a boycott of the elections, saying the conditions for a free and fair election do not exist. The two main parties of the country's minority ethnic Albanians also joined the boycott and are refusing to submit candidate lists. The European Union and United States have urged Macedonia to postpone the election.

Voting began 11 December 2016 across Macedonia as ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski sought another chance to lead the country. He stepped down from his fourth term in January amid a corruption and surveillance scandal. The election was called as part of a European Union-brokered deal to bring about an end to a deep political crisis that has afflicted the tiny Balkan country over the past two years. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who led the center-right VMRO-DPMNE party, was looking to brush off a mass surveillance scandal and return as leader for a fifth term.

Macedonian citizens voted in almost historic numbers on Election Day, with the projected turnout nearing 70 percent. Both the ruling parties and the opposition told their followers during the election campaign that this was a battle for life or death. The early elections were supposed to put an end to nearly two years of deep political crisis which not only threatened Macedonia's ambitions of joining NATO and the European Union (EU), but also its very existence - 25 years after this small Balkan nation proclaimed independence from former Yugoslavia. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his party VMRO-DPMNE, during 10 years in power, created a semi-authoritarian illiberal system that now completely controls the administration, judiciary and the media. There is rampant corruption and complete lack of responsibility and transparency. Even the European Commission, in its latest report, called Macedonia a "captured state."

Gruevski managed to mobilize his usual supporters - an army of public administration employees, farmers, nationalists and socially vulnerable groups - and secured victory once more, although finding a partner to form a parliamentary majority might prove difficult.

The Social Democrats and their leader Zoran Zaev replied by gathering support from the ethnic Albanian community- the largest minority in the country accounting for around 25 percent of the population. In the end, they lost by the tiniest of margins - 1.5 percent at the national level. As a result, the traditional ethnic Albanian parties lost almost 10 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament.

The new parliament will reflect the deep political and ethnic divide in Macedonia, with two large ethnic Macedonian parties and four smaller groups of representatives of the Albanian community, and no clear majority.

A rerun vote in a tiny village secured victory for the conservatives led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. A single polling station opened on 26 December 2016 after reports of irregularities in the December 11 vote. The Christmas Day rerun involving about 700 registered voters in the village of Tearce failed to change the outcome of the December 11 parliamentary polls. The state election commission confirmed late on Sunday that the provisional and razor-thin victory for the ruling nationalist VMRO party stands. The new vote was ordered following complaints about voting irregularities from the opposition Social Democrats in the original poll.

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Page last modified: 26-12-2016 19:39:11 ZULU