Monday, July 10, 2006

Macedonia heads for new government

Skopje - Macedonia was heading for a new government Thursday after the opposition soundly defeated Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski's socialist-led coalition in Wednesday's election.

According to preliminary results, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE led by Nikola Gruevski will have 55 seats in the upcoming parliament, while Buckovski's Socialists (SDSM) and their allies hold 32.

The assembly has a total of 120 seats, so VMRO will need to forge a coalition, almost certainly with one of parties representing the restive Albanian minority, in order to achieve the majority.

Buckovski's partners, former rebel commander Ali Ahmeti's Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and their allies PDP gained 13 seats. Their archrivals, Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), won 9 seats, the preliminary results indicated.

Also a possible factor in coalition combinations is the new Socialist party of Tito Petkovski, who, disgruntled, parted from Buckovski's SDSM seven months ago. The new party won 9 seats.

Late Wednesday, Buckovski conceded defeat within hours after the vote, in order to reduce tensions and pave the way for the quick building of the new cabinet.

Following recent stern warnings from the European Union and NATO, both of which Macedonia aspires to join, the election passed quietly amid a moderate turnout of around 56 per cent of 1.7 million voters.

No major incidents of violence, intimidation or vote-rigging, such as those that have marred past polls, were reported.

VMRO - which worked to shed its hardline nationalist image while in opposition - would return to power five years after the EU and NATO twisted its arm into signing a reform deal to defuse a conflict which had threatened to escalate into an all-out, Kosovo-type civil war.

Ethnically-divided and landlocked between Serbia and Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, Macedonia in 2001 had tottered on the brink of a civil war when Albanian rebels launched an armed insurgency to improve the status of their compatriots.

The 2001 crisis was defused through a peace and reform deal brokered by EU and NATO, which improved the status of the Albanian minority, which makes up one-quarter of of Macedonia's two-million population.

While the deal defused the crisis, it highlighted the defeat of the VMRO and led it to electoral loss in 2002. In a referendum in November 2004, with a new leadership presenting a new image, VMRO tried and failed to challenge the 2001 agreement.

For their part, Buckovski and SDSM failed to make political capital out of Macedonia's promotion to the status of a EU membership candidate late last year, most likely because there had been no improvement in living conditions for the impoverished population.

According to some surveys, nearly one-third of Macedonians live below the poverty line.

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