Former Yugoslav Macedonia was in a political crisis on Monday, after the Social Democrat opposition refused to recognise the result of the nation's first simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, both of which they lost.
“The SDSM does not recognise the electoral process,” announced Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democrats, minutes before the polling stations closed on Sunday night. He said "the citizens of Macedonia have been cheated... there are no conditions for a basic electoral process. It was conducted in an uncivilised manner, and at the same time the constitutional right of the citizens was usurped.”
The SDSM is urgently calling for an interim government of technocrats to oversee a repeat election.
With almost all polling stations counted on Monday, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE had won 42 percent of the popular vote, winning a third term in office with a strengthened majority of 61 seats versus the previous 56. It also ushered in its presidential candidate, Gjorge Ivanov, for a second five-year term.
The SDSM led the opposition parties with 24.9 percent of the vote and 34 seats, but marked a fall from the 42 seats it held. Its presidential candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, a lawyer and academic, took 44.1 percent of the vote, versus Ivanov's 55.27 percent.
Although the VMRO cannot form a government on its own, it is expected to form a coalition with one of its traditional parliamentary allies relatively easily. Chief among those is the ethnic Albanian DUI party, which also emerged strengthened with 19 seats. A ruling majority in FYROM's parliament requires 63.
Foul play or free and fair?
The SDSM was not the only institution crying foul. After a first round of presidential voting on April 13, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), cited serious problems. "A blurring of state and party activities did not provide a level playing field for candidates," it said, echoing opposition party accusations that the VMRO has used its long tenure on power to proselytise the state apparatus.
The OSCE called the drafting of voter lists "problematic and complicated". Most seriously of all, perhaps, it takes issue with media manipulation. "Despite a large number of media outlets, many IEOM (International Election Observation Mission) interlocutors alleged the indirect of the ruling party over the media because of their dominance in the advertising market." The OSCE cited a "lack of political analyses and independent reporting... self-censorship" and "failure by the public broadcaster to provide balanced and equal coverage."
Civil, a local grassroots organisation formed 15 years ago to monitor elections, also said it had received hundreds of reports of irregularities. "We registered a lot of cases of vote buying, threats that people will lose their social assistance if they are on disability or poor people, unemployed and so on that they will lose their opportunity to get a job or lose their jobs if they already have them," said Civil's leader, Jabir Derala. "It is clear that the entire administration is being misused in this electoral process."
The VMRO said the elections were conducted in an entirely legal manner. "These have been the most peaceful elections so far," Anotnio Milosovski, a senior VMRO official, told Reuters. VMRO leader Nikola Gruevski campaigned on a platform of growth, job creation and infrastrucutre development. The ruling party has secured growth of 3.5 percent in the last year and kept public borrowing far below the European Union average. But unemployment remains at 28 percent and incomes at a third of the EU average. Many people here believe that this is because the VMRO tightly controls who gets jobs, loans and state contracts.
"We are going in the wrong direction considering that the government is paying much more attention on how to control as much of the business [as possible]," said Miroljub Shukarov, a respected economist who once led the state privatisation programme. He now believes that it did not amount to true liberalisation of the economy, providing equal opportunity.
"Most of the businesses are connected with the government directly or indirectly so employment is connected with the government, the possibilities of the growing and development, investments - everything depends on the government," he said.