Friday, June 06, 2008

Scenarios for Macedonia after election

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won re-election on Sunday but monitors criticized violence that marred the poll and could delay the country's progress towards European Union membership.

Here are some scenarios for what could happen next in the country, which broke peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 but came close to full-scale ethnic war 10 years later.


- Western election monitors described the election as flawed but said violence and fraud were limited to ethnic Albanian areas. Their decision to defer judgment on the entire election until after repeat votes in troubled areas gives the country some breathing space, but will also require the government and Albanian parties to overcome rivalries and work closely to ensure a smooth, peaceful re-run.


- Gruevski will seek an ethnic Albanian party as his coalition partner, partly to strengthen his majority in the 120-seat assembly and partly in the spirit of a 2001 peace deal that sought to enfranchise Albanians and bring them into the political mainstream. His partner in the outgoing coalition, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), has been compromised by reports of violence and fraud targeting their competitors for the Albanian vote, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

A repeat alliance with the DPA would be an easy option for Gruevski but could cast a shadow over the legitimacy of his government. It would take more effort and concessions for him to ally with the DUI, which holds a grudge for being left out of government in 2006.


- Before the vote, Brussels said the election was a test Macedonia must pass to start European Union accession talks. The reserved verdict of the monitors gives some room to the EU, which would be reluctant to sink the country's hopes of an imminent start to talks for fear of creating more instability.

The next progress report on Macedonia is due later this year, and its tone could depend on several variables: the regional situation, especially the outcome of coalition negotiations in Serbia and the mood in newly-independent Kosovo, the level of tension in the country itself, and the willingness of Greece to defer until later its threatened veto on Macedonia's EU progress for the sake of stability.


- By handing Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party the healthiest majority in parliament in over a decade, voters effectively mandated him to hold firm in the 17-year row with Greece over Macedonia's name.

Polls show ethnic Macedonians would refuse to give up their identity and change the name which the country shares with a neighboring Greek province. Ethnic Albanians are urging a compromise with Athens to avoid more snubs like the blocking of Macedonia's NATO bid in April.

Gruevski will have to walk a fine line between catering to the patriotism of his core voters and playing hardball that could exasperate the West and anger Albanians.


- Macedonia was the poorest republic of the former Yugoslavia and remains behind in terms of attracting foreign investment, partly due to the general image of the Balkans as unstable but mainly because its progress towards EU membership depends as much on Greece as it does on its own efforts.

The Sunday violence may cause some investors to pause and reconsider any business plans for the country, at least until the dust settles and the EU gives a firm, promising signal.

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