Friday, July 07, 2006

Election relief for Macedonia

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is heading towards a change of government in a largely peaceful and orderly manner following parliamentary elections on 5 July.

The centre-right - formerly nationalist - Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, VMRO-DPMNE, is returning to the helm. It was last in power in 2001, during a revolt by ethnic Albanians which threatened to plunge the country into civil war.

But VMRO leader Nikola Gruevski is well short of an outright majority - and all post-independence Macedonian poll winners have relied on some support from Macedonian Albanians to .

While Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski of the Social Democratic Union has admitted defeat, his main partner from the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, Ali Ahmeti, is keen to continue in government.

Mr Ahmeti's main ethnic Albanian rival is also readying for government.

Arber Xhaferri of the Democratic Party of the Albanians says he is the logical partner - having been in government with VMRO and ousted at the same time.

Consolidating peace

An ethnically mixed governing partnership has come to be expected - and is almost a condition to be met to secure Macedonia's continued approval by the international community.

The former Yugoslav republic is still struggling to recover from the 2001 insurgency - led by Mr Ahmeti.

The European Union and the UN oversaw the end of the conflict and the Ohrid Agreement was put in place to improve representation at the top for the ethnic Albanian community, forming a quarter of the population.

The EU in particular has a major stake. It offered candidate status to Macedonia in December 2005 and made a peaceful election a major condition for further progress on accession.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) gave the election qualified approval.

The OSCE said: "While the elections largely met OSCE and Council of Europe commitments for democratic elections, instances of violence and intimidation during the first half of the campaign and on election day cast a shadow over an otherwise generally well-administered election held in a competitive environment."

EU ambitions

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was "pleased", whilst regretting "some incidents" that had to be investigated and punished.

"Substantial EU financial assistance is available to contribute to the efforts of the new government to address the most urgent reforms," he said.

EU membership remains a Balkan dream - more often than not the top foreign policy priority. Brussels knows this, as it knows it cannot sustain this unusual interest should it delay sending the right signals. Hence, its interest to stress the positive.

The European perspective - as expected - also appears to have tempered dissatisfaction amongst the losers.

"Macedonia is the main winner as the citizens showed that they could vote in free and fair elections," Mr Buckovski told supporters.

His likely successor echoed that line. Mr Gruevski knows he has to keep Europe engaged.

The relative calm of the poll and an orderly transfer will help Macedonia's case. Brussels may be reassured after initial fears raised by campaign violence.

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