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Macedonia: Voters Choose Change

Prague, 5 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian voters have given a clear mandate to the opposition coalition to form the next government. But questions still remain about the exact composition of the new cabinet and about certain of its policies.

On Tuesday, the country's Electoral Commission released the final returns of the second stage of its parliamentary elections, which took place two days earlier. The most votes went to the coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA), which won 58 out of 120 seats. The Social Democrats, who led the outgoing government, obtained only 29 seats. The two main ethnic Albanian parties, which fielded joint candidates to ensure that Albanian candidates were elected in mainly Albanian areas, gained 24 seats. The Liberal Democrats won four, the Socialists two and the Alliance of Romas one. The election will be repeated in two districts in which irregularities took place.

Macedonia's constitution states that President Kiro Gligorov must soon ask a leader of the party that won the most votes to form a new government. It is unclear who that person will be. VMRO leader Ljubco Georgievski said during the campaign that he would be the prime minister in a VMRO-DA government, and that this is specified in the coalition's agreement. But a DA spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that, in his phrase, "agreements can be changed" and suggested that DA leader Vasil Tupurkovski might become the next prime minister.

It is not clear whether the DA spokesman was serious about the possibility of claiming the prime minister's office or whether his remarks reflected jockeying between the two coalition partners for the more powerful and prestigious cabinet posts. During the campaign, many observers said that there had been two major reasons for the formation of the coalition: first, to secure the support of the multi-ethnic DA for the Macedonian nationalist VMRO in the parliamentary elections and, second, to win the backing of the large VMRO electorate for DA leader Tupurkovski in the 1999 presidential vote. If this thesis is correct, it would not be in Tupurkovski's interest for the DA to provoke a clash with the VMRO before the presidential elections, and certainly not before the government has even been formed.

Perhaps the most important question involving the formation of the new government is not really that of the relationship between the VMRO and DA. Rather, it has to do with who else will join the coalition. The VMRO and DA are three votes short of an absolute majority in parliament, and it is not yet clear where they will get them.

Speculation has so far centered on the possibility that the VMRO and DA will form a broad-based coalition with either one of the two main ethnic Albanian parties, the moderate Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) or the more nationalistic Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

The PDSH is the likelier partner of the two, since the PPD was part of the outgoing coalition and hence is tainted in the eyes of many VMRO-DA supporters. A PDSH spokesman recently told RFE/RL in Skopje that his party does not exclude any possibilities in the post-election coalition talks. The PDSH and VMRO earlier agreed on a power-sharing arrangement in Skopje, which may prove to be the model for the future government.

Regardless of which parties form the new government, one thing is clear: Voters gave their trust first and foremost to Georgievski because they were willing to give him a chance to end corruption and over-regulation of the economy, promote economic growth and attract foreign investment. In preparing for his successful campaign, the man who began his political career as a fiery nationalist reinvented himself as a neo-liberal. Voters will now expect him to deliver.

If Georgievski does not succeed in raising the standard of living and reducing unemployment, the voters may turn him out of office at the next opportunity. Also if he fails to deliver, it is possible that the nationalist wing of the VMRO, which never fully accepted Georgievski's shift from nationalist to economic issues, may oust him from the party leadership.

A further set of questions surrounds the likely foreign policy of the VMRO-DA government. Georgievski told RFE/RL in Skopje last month that he is interested in good relations with all his neighbors and does not want any foreign policy problems, in his phrase, "to distract" the government's attention from the economy. Observers have suggested, however, that he may not be as close to Serbia as were his predecessors, many of whom had long-standing personal links to the Belgrade establishment. Georgievski's links are more with Sofia and Athens.

One question affecting ties to Serbia will be whether to allow NATO to use Macedonian territory for the alliance's monitoring mission in Kosovo. Before the first round of the elections on October 18, Georgievski suggested that he did not want Macedonia to become involved in such a project. But in late October, he suggested that he would pursue what he called "continuity" in foreign policy and respect any agreements that the previous government may have reached with NATO.

If that is the case, it may be that Georgievski does not want potential tensions with NATO to distract him from the economy. It could also be that he realizes that if Macedonia wants integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and to attract the goodwill of Western countries, it must show itself to be a valuable partner in political as well as economic affairs.