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Macedonia: New Government May Change Course

Prague, 26 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- After emerging victorious in the first round of parliamentary elections eight days ago (Oct.18), Macedonia's main opposition coalition now seems likely as well to win the most seats in the second round on Sunday (Nov. 1). But questions remain about the eventual composition of a new government and what it will be able to accomplish.

Macedonian voters indicated in the first round that they feel it is time for a change. The country has over 30 percent unemployment and has done poorly in attracting vital foreign investments.

The coalition consisting of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) led by Ljubco Georgievski and the Democratic Alternative of Vasil Tupurkovski won 21 seats, followed by the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) with 14. The Liberals took two seats and the Socialists one. The two main ethnic Albanian parties --the moderate Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), which is part of the SDSM's current governing coalition, and the more radical Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH)-- had formed an electoral coalition so as not to split the Albanian vote. Between them, they won 20 legislative seats.

The first question facing Macedonia as it approaches the second round of voting to decide the remaining 62 seats is whether the VMRO-DA coalition will maintain its lead. Observers in Skopje say that not only is this likely, but it is possible that the coalition could emerge with 70 out of 120 seats and therefore be able to govern without entering into a broader coalition with additional parties.

The second issue is whether the VMRO-DA, if victorious, will prefer to govern alone or seek to enter into a broader coalition. It is possible, in fact, that even before Sunday's vote some of the smaller parties might try to make a deal with Georgievski and Tupurkovski in an effort to jump on what appears to be the winning bandwagon at the earliest opportunity.

At the heart of the question regarding a broader coalition are, however, the political relations between the country's Macedonian majority and its ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about 23 percent of the population. The VMRO was founded in 1990 on a strongly Macedonian nationalist platform. But Georgievski told RFE/RL in Skopje recently that his main interests now are reforming the economy, ending corruption, reducing taxes, eliminating regulations and attracting foreign investment. In short, he has reinvented his party as a bastion of neo-liberalism in order to oust an ex-communist establishment that many regard as ineffective and corrupt.

Georgievski underscored his change of approach by avoiding nationalist rhetoric and speaking almost exclusively about economic issues. (Ironically, it was the Social Democrats who most openly appealed to nationalist passions during the campaign by carrying out a series of well-publicized arrests of what were called "Albanian terrorists.") Furthermore, Georgievski chose as his main ally the DA, which is committed to the principles of a civil society and whose membership includes prominent Albanians, Turks, Roma and others.

Georgievski could thus govern with the DA alone in a cabinet in which Albanians and other minorities would be represented. But while some of the DA's Albanian intellectuals may enjoy personal prestige, they lack the power base among the Albanians that only the PPD or PDSH could provide. Speculation has therefore come to center on the possibility of a coalition involving VMRO-DA and one of those two main Albanian parties.

Since the PPD is tainted in the eyes of many of Georgievski's backers by the fact that it was a partner in the SDSM's outgoing coalition government, attention has centered on the PDSH as a possible partner for VMRO-DA. This might seem ironic, in view of the fact that VMRO and the PDSH were both founded as militantly nationalist parties. But the two have since made a power-sharing pact at the local level in Skopje, and there seems to be little reason why they could not apply that model to a national government. Both VMRO-DA and PDSH have left the door open for coalition talks with each other, and a spokesman for the PDSH recently told RFE/RL that, in his words, "all options are open" once the second round of voting is over.

Were Georgievski to head a government including the PDSH as well as the VMRO and DA, he would govern with the backing of a clear majority of the population, including powerful representatives of the two main ethnic groups.

This leads to the third question facing Macedonia, namely whether his government will be able to deliver the development and prosperity he has promised. His supporters --and those of his coalition allies-- will be watching to see if he will indeed produce the changes he promised during his campaign, or if he and his allies will prove to be as corrupt and ineffective as the coalition they replaced.