The Effects of Snap Elections in North Macedonia
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17 JUL 2020 Spotlight
The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) won in parliamentary elections in North Macedonia on 13-15 July. Despite this, maintaining the current coalition is not obvious. The main tasks of the new government will be to alleviate the second wave of the coronavirus, revive the economy, and strengthen the rule of law for integration with the European Union.
Photo: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters Photo: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

What were the election results?

The “We can” coalition composed of SDSM and three smaller parties won 35.9% of the vote and 46 seats in the unicameral Sobranie (120 seats). With 34.6% of the vote and two mandates fewer was “Renewal”, led by the national-conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation–Democratic Party of the Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE had been part of all previous governments, but never together. The third strongest and the largest Albanian party is the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), which netted 11.5% of the votes and 15 seats. Since its inception almost two decades ago, only once has it been outside of government. The coalition of the Alliance for Albanians and Alternative received 9% of votes and 12 mandates. The parliament will be completed by the Left (two seats) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (one seat).

The election dates were changed, but why?

The elections were scheduled for the end of 2020 but the date was changed twice. In October 2019, after France blocked the date for starting EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev resigned and a technical cabinet was to rule from January until early elections in April. These, in turn, were cancelled because of the pandemic and restrictions under the state of emergency. The decline in the number of cases (reaching 107 a day in the middle of April in a country of about two million), which remained stable in May (on average about 25 per day), made it possible to consider a new election date. SDSM wanted them as soon as possible, while the opposition did not, even threatening a boycott. After the election date was set in mid-June following the lifting of the state of emergency, North Macedonia began experiencing a second wave of the pandemic. In response, the election was spread over three days, allowing for separate voting of seniors, people from risk groups, and those infected.

Who will form the government?

Maintaining the current coalition, which has a majority of 61 seats, is the most likely, but not a foregone conclusion. In the campaign, DUI not only criticized SDSM for involving another Albanian party, the Besa Movement, in the electoral coalition but also declared it would join the government with the winning party only after receiving the prime minister portfolio. For SDSM, the alternative is to build a coalition with the other three parties, which together have the same number of mandates as the current coalition partner. The distribution of seats means that DUI may pull back from its demand for the prime ministership as its price for joining the government but possibly maintain the position of speaker of the parliament. Negotiations with SDSM on such a solution are likely because a government of many parties, which include anti-establishment factions, could prove to be more difficult to build and last.

What are the next government’s main challenges?

Public health will be a major challenge. In June, an average of 137 coronavirus infections were recorded per day, and the trend is upward. The more than 8,600 cases by mid-July, of which a few more than 400 have been fatal, place North Macedonia among the countries with the highest infection rates in Europe. Another task will be to stimulate the economy, including allocating almost €300 million from an EU assistance package besides European Investment Bank loans. Additional difficulties include the restoration of public confidence in state institutions, tarnished mainly during the rule of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski from VMRO-DPMNE (2006-2016), who was convicted of abuse of power and fled to Hungary. Meanwhile, although there is progress in reforms, for example, in the area of media freedom (from 118th in 2016 to 92nd in 2020), change is lacking in other areas, such as the fight against corruption. In addition, the OSCE post-election report indicates that most of its previous recommendations, including the need for transparent campaign financing, have not been implemented.

What are the consequences of the elections for the European integration of North Macedonia?

The creation of a government by SDSM guarantees that the provisions of the Prespa Agreement of June 2018 will be maintained, under which Macedonia changed its name and Greece unblocked its Euro-Atlantic integration. Thanks to this, the country—after delays caused by France’s position—on 26 March began talks about membership in the EU, and the day after joined NATO. Meanwhile, some in VMRO-DPMNE during the campaign sought to undermine both the Prespa Agreement—occasionally even claiming their government would renegotiate or invalidate it—as well as the agreement on good neighbourly relations with Bulgaria, also signed by Zaev. The new government will continue talks with the EU based on a new methodology for enlargement policy. The negotiating framework presented in July by the European Commission places an emphasis on strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions.