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Macedonia: Opposition Trounces Ruling Coalition In Elections

Preliminary official results from Macedonia's parliamentary elections, which international monitors are likely to rule free and fair, show opposition parties sweeping the ruling coalition from power. RFE/RL reports on the outcome of the first elections since last year's seven-month Albanian insurrection.

Prague, 16 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Voter turnout in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Macedonia, the highest in 20 years, resulted in a very strong showing for the opposition Social Democrats, or SDSM, and its allies in the Together for Macedonia coalition.

Macedonia's Albanian community voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Alliance for Democratic Integration, or BDI, a party recently founded by rebel commanders who led last year's insurgency.

Loud celebrations rocked the capital, Skopje, and the Albanian-majority city of Tetovo.

Official results of the elections are not expected to be released until later today. But the strong unofficial showing for both BDI and SDSM appears to be a resounding public rejection of the outgoing government, which is widely perceived to have close links to organized crime and corruption.

"Macedonia has won. The people have won," said Social Democratic leader and the likely next prime minister of Macedonia, Branko Crvenkovski. "Together, we have shown that we are a mature nation-state, a nation that knows who should set things straight from now on. Tomorrow we celebrate, but hard work awaits us."

Crvenkovski was just 29 years old when he first became prime minister in 1992, making him the youngest government leader in Europe.

Early this morning, the leaders of the two incumbent parties, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the Macedonian nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of Albanians, or PDSh, conceded defeat.

Georgievski showed no signs of the bitterness and suspicion that had marked his party's campaign. "We certainly agree that these elections were the fairest and most democratic that we can remember in the Republic of Macedonia's parliamentary life," Georgievski said.

Georgievski also told supporters that VMRO-DPMNE will be a strong opposition. Xhaferi pledged "to cooperate with [BDI] and work for the Albanian cause," adding that, "These initial results clearly show BDI is leading and we wish them success."

Xhaferi told RFE/RL earlier this month that if his party loses to BDI he would offer his resignation.

BDI, led by Ali Ahmeti, the former rebel commander of the Albanian National Liberation Army, or UCK, is a left-of-center party and is expected to be a junior member in a coalition with the Social Democrats and its allies. Together they are expected to have about 75 seats in the 120-seat parliament, according to an initial unofficial projection by the Together for Macedonian coalition, which predicts it will have 62 seats and BDI 13.

Due to the reorganization of electoral districts in advance of these elections, the Albanian parties are likely to lose five of their 24 seats in parliament.

Ahmeti is unlikely to be in the next government. That is because despite having shed his camouflage fatigues for a suit, he is still perceived by the outgoing government and members of the international community as a terrorist.

In the words of one Western diplomat in Skopje, "Ahmeti is an untested politician with a long track record of acting illegally, culminating in [last year's] insurgency."

In his public statements, however, Ahmeti has shown strong support for the peaceful integration of the country's ethnic Albanians. He has been among the most outspoken advocates of full, peaceful implementation of the August 2001 Ohrid framework peace agreement that resulted in constitutional changes granting Macedonia's Albanians greater rights. "We will work for the implementation of the Ohrid agreement and for the preservation of all positive values in the country that were devalued by the political process here," Ahmeti said.

Last month, the Macedonian Interior Ministry admitted it has outstanding warrants issued in June for the arrest of Ahmeti and other BDI leaders. However, the warrants appear to have been largely an election ploy: a bid to attract voters to VMRO-DPMNE, as well as to dissuade the Social Democrats from allying themselves with Ahmeti's BDI.

The campaign was marked by scattered violence that included the repeated bombing of BDI premises, a kidnapping of bus passengers that ended peacefully, and attacks in which three policemen and one Albanian civilian were killed.

On election day, most incidents were relatively minor except for one in the ethnic Macedonian village of Lesok near Tetovo, which was described by an unnamed electoral-commission official. "In Lesok at around [3 p.m.], several unidentified people arrived, went into the polling station, seized a ballot box, attacked a member of the elections committee and fired several shots as they left the polling station. The police are looking for four people in connection with this case."

Police later reported detaining four Macedonian suspects.

International monitors were upbeat in their assessments of the elections. Observers from the Washington-based International Republican Institute describe the election process as "by and large peaceful," and "generally an accurate reflection of the will of the Macedonian voters."

A mission spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Wolfgang Greven, praised the "very good" response to the initial results, adding that, though "there were a few isolated incidents," overall the OSCE is "quite satisfied by the way everything has gone." He also urged the public to respect the results as reliable. "The results certified by the State Election Committee, in which we have a great deal of faith, should be fully accepted and implemented," Greven said.

Notably silent in responding to the outcome were two of the biggest losers in this race in terms of power and influence: Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski and PDSh Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci.

The violence of recent months, which many analysts ascribe to Boskovski and Thaci's power struggles, is likely to dissipate, if only temporarily, as a new government is formed. The new government will have to tackle the country's 40 percent unemployment rate and sizeable debt caused by government arms spending due to last year's insurgency. It must also ensure that the Ohrid agreement is fully implemented.