Macedonia – time to contemplate genuine coexistence

With incumbent prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, having secured his third consecutive election, thereby confirming his and his party’s hegemony over Macedonia’s politics, it is now time to contemplate how a genuine system of coexistence can be built.

By Spyros A. Sofos

After months of a bitter confrontation between Macedonia’s ruling coalition and the opposition, and a protracted boycott of the Sobranie by the opposition SDSM (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia) as well as the smaller NDP (National Democratic Party), NSDP (New Social Democratic Party), ND (Liberal Party) and LPD (Liberal Democratic Party), voters in the Republic of Macedonia (and the diaspora, where for the first time three representatives were to be elected) have gone to the polls.

Despite declarations of success by political leaders from the major parties, the results are characterized by considerable complexity. The incumbent Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, has managed to win his third consecutive election, confirming his and his party’s hegemony over Macedonia’s politics. This achievement cannot be underestimated; under Gruevski, VMRO-DMPNE has indisputably become hegemonic in Macedonian politics, almost impervious to criticisms of its often authoritarian style of government. His majority however is much more reduced and a VMRO-DMPNE government is likely to have a less easy ride in the Sobranie.

The opposition SDSM has seen its share of the vote increasing substantially but still falling short of seriously challenging the VMRO-DMPNE-led coalition. With their share of the vote and seats in the Sobranie increased, SDSM and its allies are now a more formidable opponent of the government and can have in theory the potential of challenging VMRO-DMPNE initiatives by forging parliamentary alliances around specific issues.

SDSM has not managed to capitalise on the public unease with the style and substance of the Gruevski government and to convince of its ability to provide a viable alternative. Whereas it is clear that opposition to the VMRO-DMPNE government both within and outside the Sobranie is becoming more vociferous, it is evident that the latter has managed to present itself as a credible force that has the ability and the will to withstand international and Greek pressures on the name issue and the capacity to overcome the potential isolation the name dispute might bring about. Despite the lack of an impressive record in managing the economy or enhancing democracy, VMRO-DMPNE, has yet another term in office ahead of it.

The poll has probably further entrenched the polarised political arena that has been in evidence over the past two decades as alternative voices and political forces have not managed to effectively challenge the duopoly of the VMRO-DMPNE and SDSM.

The Albanian parties have seen their share of the vote fall considerably, partly because the very low turnout of Albanian voters. Having attracted just over 16% of the total vote, they are now much weaker potential partners in a government coalition. More importantly, their poor performance has provided the opportunity to critics of the established power-sharing system to doubt the usefulness, necessity or practicality the various power-sharing institutions and practices. The electoral showing of the Albanian parties has reopened the debate over the actual size of the country’s Albanian population and has cast observers’ eyes on the forthcoming 2012 census which will seek to provide answers to such questions that are crucial for the continued ‘success’ of the Ohrid agreement and the consociational arrangements it has put in place.

However, the poor record of the Albanian parties in the 5 June election needs to be carefully read. It definitely reflects a degree of loss of faith on the part of the Albanian electorate; loss of faith in the Albanian elites and their ability to deliver but also loss of faith in the Macedonian political system. It may suggest that the consociational model of the Ohrid Agreement has not got the capacity to integrate the Albanian community to the Macedonian body politic as it has perpetuated a parallel society system whereby Macedonians and Albanians do not share spaces of interaction, deliberation and meaningful daily coexistence.

Despite the reasons for celebration the election has brought to the two major Macedonian parties, this may not be time for jubilation but rather a call for contemplation of how a genuine system of coexistence can be built.

Spyros A. Sofos is a Senior Research Fellow in International Politics at the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence of Kingston University, London. Editor of the ‘Journal of Contemporary European Studies’ and of ‘Southeastern Europe: Charting an Emerging European region’, his publications include ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’ (with Brian Jenkins – 1997), ‘Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey’ (with Umut Özkırımlı -2007) and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks’ (with Roza Tsagarousianou, 2010). He has been director of Kingston’s MSc in International Conflict Programme and is currently teaching Conflict Management and Resolution.

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