Thursday, April 26, 2007

Macedonia political landscape continues to shift

The Macedonian political stage is bustling as never before. Almost all parties have held congresses and elected new leaderships. The past period has seen enlargement of the right wing, in particular of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party and the dissolution of the Social Democrat-led For Macedonia Together coalition, formed in 2000.

One of the contributing factors has been a new law on political parties which requires parties to have 1,000 members to register, instead of the previous 500 members. As a result, many smaller political groupings have had to assimilate into larger ones.

The League for Democracy, the first political party to be established in Macedonia after communism, has joined the VMRO-DPMNE, as has the Agricultural Party. The head of the latter, Marjan Gorcev, formerly belonged to the VMRO-DPMNE and served as agriculture minister under former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. DRUM, a party founded by former VMRO-DPMNE Vice-President Dosta Dimovska, has also returned to the fold. In all, eight parties have now been absorbed by VMRO-DPMNE.

Small parties are not happy with the amended law on political parties. The former leader of the League for Democracy, university professor Gjorge Marjanovic, has filed a motion with the Constitutional Court, urging it to reconsider the changes.

Last month, the Court launched a procedure concerning the articles in question, which also require parties to deposit signatures at local units of the ministry of justice, and to complete registration within 45 days. The judges expressed concerns that the provisions may violate the constitutional principle of freedom of political assembly.

Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) has undergone a few quakes in the several months since it lost the most recent elections. Its leader, former Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, was ousted in a no-confidence vote. A congress to elect a new leader then followed. Radmila Sekerinska, the former deputy prime minister in charge of European integration, became the new SDSM leader. With her came an entirely new party leadership. Elections for municipal level heads are now underway, a move seen as part of Sekerinska's efforts to consolidate the party.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE also held a congress, re-electing current Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as its leader.

In terms of public opinion, the situation resembles that of the 2002 parliamentary elections, except with roles reversed. Now, as then, the ruling party enjoys strong popularity, and the opposition is mired in low poll numbers. However, the ruling party today is the VMRO-DPMNE, which has the confidence of 23% of the population, according to recent surveys. In 2002, it was the Social Democrats, who are currently able to muster only around 8% of voter support.

Political analysts see such a phenomenon as quite normal. "It is natural that people who voted for an option in elections give the same option great support for a certain period hoping that it will solve the pressing economic problems," says political analyst Mersel Biljali.

Should the government fail to deliver on its campaign promises, its rating will slowly but surely decline, Biljali says. That is exactly the fate suffered by the SDSM. Despite the government's high rating in 2002, it was not able to meet citizens' expectations concerning economic improvement and investment.

It remains to be seen how effective Sekerinska will be at putting the Social Democrats back on the road to political recovery. The latest development is the breakup of the For Macedonia Together coalition, which was formed ahead of the 2000 local elections. It then went on to triumph in 2002, and subsequently backed Branko Crvenkovski in his 2004 race to the presidency.

The second largest party in the coalition For Macedonia Together, the Liberal Democrats, has undergone a political shakeup. At its most recent congress, party leader and former Mayor of Skopje Risto Penov resigned from his post.

Former Defence Minister Jovan Manasievski then took over the helm. Immediately after the congress, he announced the party's departure from the coalition, saying it was in danger of losing its identity to the SDSM. The Liberal Democrats now plan to run independently in the next local elections, expected in 2009.

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