Polling day was uneventful, but overall Macedonia's elections were simply not good enough.
When last year Macedonia gained official European Union candidate status – but without an actual date for the start of negotiations – the country’s ability to organize free, peaceful, and democratic elections was listed as the most important test of its readiness for further integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Now that the 5 July general elections are behind us, could we say that Macedonia has passed that test?
In many important respects the answer to this question must be positive. The polling day was largely peaceful and orderly, with very few incidents and all of those minor ones. The results were announced promptly and complaints of irregularity – there weren’t many – were dealt with efficiently. Most importantly, the main losers, Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski’s Social Democratic Union (SDSM), conceded immediately and urged the winners, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), to form a government as soon as possible in order to continue with the country’s efforts to join the EU. VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski has already held constructive talks with potential coalition partners and it now looks as though the country will have a new government soon. So does this mean a clean bill of health for Macedonia’s democracy? The country has, to quote the Skopje daily Dnevnik, "passed the test of political and democratic maturity," hasn’t it?
While a sigh of relief is in order, any "yes" to such questions must be qualified, and rather elaborately. What this election lacked to be regarded as impeccably democratic is some sense of ordinariness about it. There were very few things about the election that people took for granted. The campaign started in mid-June in a way that reminded many of previous election dramas or even of the turmoil of 2001, when the country was briefly on the verge of an all-out civil war. Incidents, many involving intimidation, the use of brute force, and even firearms, occurred daily.
This prompted urgent action by a worried international community in Macedonia. As it often happens in this part of the world, local representatives of major international actors – the United States, the EU and its most powerful members, as well as major international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – joined forces to bang some local heads together.
In the past, the fact that international intervention resulted in an almost immediate end to the violence and other meddling with the election process would have merited praise for cooperativeness. Now that Macedonia is an official candidate for full EU membership, the international community as well as the majority of Macedonian citizens who had nothing to do with the campaign incidents have every right to be frustrated that an intervention was needed in the first place.
Utrinski Vesnik, another Skopje daily, described the election day as "relatively boring." The day was, in fact, far from boring. True, it was rather uneventful, but also full of suspense as thousands of local and international observers – including ambassadors of great powers relentlessly cruising critical polling stations – nervously awaited the news of serious incidents, which luckily never came.