North Macedonia: Close result expected a day before the election

Skopje

SKOPJE – An unusual Wednesday parliamentary election is taking place in North Macedonia on 15 July, and the winner is hard to predict, meaning that the country will probably have to wait additionally for the full-capacity government it sorely needs.

Each of the two biggest parties are expected to win between 30 and 40 percent of the vote – Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) lead by Zoran Zaev, who is willing to return to the post of the Prime Minister, which he relinquished on 3 January so that the technical government can be formed, and VMRO-DPMNE, lead by Hristijan Mickoski since the former leader and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski fell from power.

The biggest ethnic Albanian party in the country, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) is polling at around 10%, meaning that it will probably once again play the role of the kingmaker.

The formation of a technical government, in which VMRO-DPMNE also has ministers, was first implemented following the Pržino agreement of 2015, which allowed for election a year later. results of which were accepted by all sides. It was implemented once again this year, before the unexpected COVID-19 crisis radically changed the situation.

“The polls show that the two biggest parties enjoy similar support with a slight lead for one or the other depending on source. The question arises as to who will be able to show a ruling majority in order to form a government by building an inter-ethnic coalition, which has been an established practice in the country since independence”, says Simonida Kacarska, Director of the European Policy Institute from Skopje, for European Western Balkans.

Last year’s presidential election was also a closely contested affair, with the SDSM and VMRO-DMPNE candidates ending up virtually tied in the first round.

According to Kacarska, there are glitches between the partners in the current coalition government between SDSM and DUI and difficulty in reconciling the key opposition party (VMRO – DPMNE) with the requests of key Albanian parties as DUI, which is why the formation of government will likely be a long and cumbersome process.

The snap parliamentary election was triggered in October 2019, when the country failed to receive the green light for opening the EU accession negotiations. Originally called for 12 April, the election date was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new date was agreed upon by all the parties after weeks of deadlock.

Since October, however, North Macedonia managed to get the consent of EU countries to open the accession negotiations, as well as to become the 30th NATO member.

According to Simonida Kacarska, the campaign has included the country’s position towards European integration, as well as key bilateral agreements that managed to move the country on the EU path after a long stagnation – most notably the Prespa Agreement with Greece, but also the good neighborliness agreement with Bulgaria.

Economic development, as well as issues related to non-majority communities, the largest of which are Albanians, were also present int the campaign.

“Unfortunately, a significant part of the campaign has been negative and aimed at discrediting the opponents”, Kacarska added.

In addition to also becoming one of the issues of the campaign, COVID-19 has changed the mechanics of the process. Much like the rest of the region, North Macedonia has seen the rise in cases in recent weeks. The voting for the infected was organised in advance.

“The challenges posed by the pandemic have created difficult circumstances for running the campaign, which has been largely regular and fair. A lot of the campaigning has moved online where regulation has been more difficult and has been at times plagued by fake news as well”, Simonida Kacarska concludes for EWB.

One of the main issues of the political crisis in the country from 2014 to 2017 was whether the conditions for free and fair elections exist. Whether North Macedonia is moving in a positive direction will be assessed following the reports of the observers, although the electoral conditions to not seem to be a point of contention as they were before.

There are 120 Members of the Parliament of North Macedonia, elected from six constituencies, each consisting of 20 MPs. Additionally, three MPs are elected by the voters from abroad, but they can only enter the parliament if they win enough votes, which was not the case in 2016.