By Trajche Panov (European University Institute, Florence)

Macedonia got the first government after 11 years of political dominance of the conservative populist VMRO DPMNE (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) led by its president and long term Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. This practically closes the era of Nikola Gruevski who created an illiberal political regime based on national populism, clientelism, surpression of democracy and human rights and total party control of the media and judiciary system. With the election of the new government, a period of three years of the Macedonian political crisis comes to an end. Or at least these are the high hopes among the progressive forces in the country who expect dramatic political changes. The most recent violent events which preceded the vote for the new government do not leave a room for hopes that VMRO DPMNE will democratically accept the new changes and will be cooperative in the process of the transition of power.
Rocky road to the election of the new government
The new government is elected in the Parliament after five months and twenty days since the early elections on December 11th, 2016. The new prime minister Zoran Zaev received the mandate from the President of the country Gjorgje Ivanov 157 days after the elections. This is the longest period to receive a mandate in the 26 years history of parliamentary democracy in Republic of Macedonia. These developments are a result of two main factors. The outcome of the parliamentary elections was a hung parliament with the coalition around conservative VMRO DPMNE winning 51 seats, the coalition gathered around the social democratic SDSM (Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia) winning 49 seats and the rest 20 seats of 120 seats Parliament distributed among the parties of ethnic Albanians. The Democratic Union of Integration (DUI), won 10 seats which was a significant decrease of support in comparison with the previous elections in 2014 when the party won 18 seats. This party has dominated the Albanian political spectrum for more than 15 years and was a long term coalition partner of VMRO DPMNE in the last nine years. The Democratic Party of Albanians won just two seats and the two newly emerging political forces, BESA movement and Alliance for Albanians, won 5 and 3 seats respectively.
The second element that caused a prolongation of a formation of the new government led by the opposition was the clear intention of the regime through the President of the Republic to block the process of transition of power. The president Gjorgje Ivanov, who has been a loyal follower and executor of the interests of Nikola Gruevski and VMRO DPMNE, abused the Constitution on several occasions to give a privileged position to Nikola Gruevski by blocking the new parliamentary majority to vote for the new government. Firstly, Gjorgje Ivanov gave the mandate to Nikola Gruevski in January although the president of VMRO DPMNE did not have a confirmation that his party has secured a parliamentary majority. After Gruevski’s failure to secure a majority, the president Ivanov applied double standards by refusing to give the mandate to the leader of the opposition Zoran Zaev without depositing an evidence that there is a parliamentary majority. Moreover, once the Zoran Zaev deposited a confirmation of 67 signatures (The Macedonian Parliaments has 120 members), the President of the country refused to give the mandate by asking for a guarantee that the Unitarian character of the country will be preserved. The justification for this clearly unconstitutional requirement was the political platform of the three ethnic Albanian parties (Democratic Union for Integration, Movement Besa and Alliance for Albanians) signed on January 7th, nearly a month after the elections, which consisted of the requirements of these parties for improvement of the rights of the ethnic Albanians in the country. The platform, which certain elements would require constitutional amendments, was already a subject of negotiations between VMRO DPMNE and DUI in their unsuccessful attempt to preserve the majority which was ruling the country in the previous 8 years. According to the testimonies of members of DUI involved in the negotiations, VMRO DPMNE and Gruevski have accepted the main demands of the so called Tirana platform. The only point of disagreement have been the the extension of the mandate of the Special Prosecutor.
The platform was instrumentalized by the regime for nationalistic mobilization and organization of protests under the slogan “For Joint Macedonia” which took place immediately after a TV interview of Nikola Gruevski in which he called citizens to mobilize in order to save their country. The third way to block the new majority to take over the power was through filibustering the constitutive meeting of the new Parliament and the blockade of election of new speaker of the Parliament. Finally, on April 27th, Mr. Zaev and at least 10 others were injured after the mob of angry nationalists attacked lawmakers in Parliament. The mob was protesting the election of a new speaker supported by the Social Democrats and parties representing the country’s ethnic Albanian minority, who make up about one-quarter of the population.
The composition of the new government
The new parliamentarian majority consists of 62 Members of the Parliament. It is a tiny majority which creates doubts about a possible stability on longer terms. The BESA Movement dropped out of Government negotiations without reaching an agreement to join the new Government. This is mainly due to their opposition to the participation of DUI in the reformist government. DUI played a pivotal role in the process of the negotiations for the new Government. The nine years long partnership with VMRO DPMNE in what is considered to be one of the most corrupt governments which created illiberal regime characterized with diminishing of the democracy, human rights and media freedoms is a difficult legacy for the party, but also for the new government. This is one of the important challenges for the new Government. Everyone who has been a part of criminal activities during the previous regime should be held accountable no matter the role in the new political developments. There should not be an amnesty for DUI just because of their crucial role in defeating the regime.
The new cabinet consists of 25 members. The main asset of the new government is the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. A successful mayor of Strumica – city in Eastern Macedonia who went through important economic development and progress during the 12 years of Zaev’s terms, an economist with previous experience in the business sector, he passed the test of political maturity during the political crisis which started practically three years ago when the opposition accused the ruling party for electoral fraud the at the Presidential and early Parliamentary elections in 2014. The enormous wire-tapping scandal, the negotiations sponsored by the EU and the international factor, the colorful revolution which emerged as a result of the attempt of the president Gjorgje Ivanov to grant a collective abolition to the politicians involved in the wire-tapping scandal and the last protests which erupted in violence and an attempt for his physical elimination just confirmed the right approach he had in the fight against the regime. His peaceful methods, numerous times questioned by the impatient public, have prevented a further escalation of tensions in the ethnically fragile and politically polarized Macedonian society.
Radmila Shekerinska, Zaev’s closest collaborator in the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, will be in charge of the Ministry of Defense. The first women being in change of the defense forces of the country has a great record of success in the Euro-Atlantic integration processes by leading the country to a status of a country candidate for membership in the EU, the last time Social democrats were on power in the period of 2002 to 2006. Most of the ministers proposed by Social Democrats are fresh political faces with high professional reputation in their fields. The Ministry of Finance will be managed by Dragan Tevdovski, a young and well respected university professor of economics who puts a great emphasis of the issue of inequality in his academic and political activities. Renata Deskovska, another university professor will be in charge of the Ministry of Education and Science, an area that went through many backward processes during Gruevski’s regime. A great attention of the public attracted the Minister of Culture, Robert Alagjozovski, a writer and representative of the alternative culture circles and Mila Carovska, the new Minister of Labour and Social Policy who has a long working experience as social worker in the NGO sector.
The main public debate was caused by the decision of giving a deputy prime minister position to the business sector. While the main focus of the debate was whether the business sector and the big capital should be represented so highly in the new social democratic government, very few were questioning the competence of the proposed candidate, Kocho Angjusev a university professor, founder and CEO of a corporation working with electricity production and trade. The number of ministers without portfolio remains high. Seven such ministers will be part of the new government. While this number is very high, some of the posts are used to give a representation of the smaller ethnic communities such as the Roma and Turkish community in the country.
The ministers proposed by DUI represent the same elite that was part of the executive or local government in the past. The military wing of the party prevailed the struggle inside the party and DUI begins the era of what it supposed to be the new reformist government with its old party establishment. Hence the role of DUI will be of crucial importance for the direction of the new government. The party is left to choose between two options: to continue with emphasizing the economic interests of the party establishment or to contribute significantly in the needed reforms of the Macedonian politics and society.
High expectations, enormous challenges
The agenda of the new government is very ambitious. Zoran Zaev announced that the new government will be focused on building “one society for all”. The economy and improving the living standard of the citizens by increasing the minimum wage and the average wage, building a just society with functional institutions and rule of law and integration in EU and NATO have been set as the three main priorities of the new government. This ambitious agenda will be facing numerous obstacles and challenges. The new government is faced with the challenge of reviving the democracy and creating accountable institutions. But how can one build accountable institutions meant to serve to the citizens when the level of party patronage and clientelism has been totally captured the public administration? How can one build one society for all when ethnocentric politics and nationalist populist discourse have been dominating the political arena for more than a decade bringing the trust between the different communities in the society at the lowest level? How can one establish rule of law when the judiciary power has been put under complete party control of VMRO DPMNE? How can one improve the economic wellbeing of the citizens when it inherits the highest public debt in the history of the Republic of Macedonia? How can one prioritize the EU and NATO integration when the EU and NATO themselves are going through hard times without a clear image about further enlargements and the populist nationalistic discourses are growing in the countries of the region? Finally, how can one push for deep political reforms when its stability is based on a tiny parliamentary majority of just 62 MP’s supported by a party which was part of Gruevski’s regime for nine years?
The legacy of the regime of Nikola Gruevski is much more than just corrupted and disfunctional institutions. It is a society under complete erosion without any stable column that would be a foundation to start the process of its rebuilding. Zaev and his cabinet is faced with the challenge to work under pressure without the rights to make mistakes. While working hard on increasing the trust among citizens in the ethnically, religiously, linguistically and politically divided society, the fight against corruption will have to be one of the main priorities.
In conclusion, with the election of this new government led by social democrats, the era of Nikola Gruevski and VMRO DPMNE has finally ended but the regime party still remains very strong and well organized with full control of the judiciary and the media. The main task of the new government is to disassemble the regime’s installations in every aspect of the Macedonian society and to secure that the criminals from the previous regime will be held accountable. The expectations of the new government are extremely high while facing enormous challenges. Macedonia needs a fresh start and the international support will be of crucial importance to encourage the government to take decisive steps in order to reform the divided society on ethnic, religious, linguistic and political basis.

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