When, on October 18, the citizens of Macedonia voted for a new parliament, they not only had choices between extremes but also among several moderate candidates. The more open environment reflected growing political maturity in a country beset by instability—both internal and external—since becoming an independent state in 1991.
Approximately 1,200 people representing political parties, electoral coalitions and independent candidates competed for the 120 seats in the Macedonian Assembly. Eighty-five of those seats were contested on a majority basis in districts, while the remaining 35 seats were determined by proportional voting for party, coalition and independent lists across the country. The mixed system represents an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to abandon a solely majority-based system viewed as favoring those in power. The newly established electoral districts were more consistent demographically, although ethnic Albanians continued to allege that they were still left somewhat under-represented.
The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the successor to the former League of Communists, ran essentially on its own in the elections. The main challenge to the SDSM came from an unlikely coalition of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), named after the 19th century extremist Macedonian liberation group, and the newly formed and politically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA). A secondary challenger was the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the product of a recent merger of two moderate political parties. The election picture was complicated by the continued existence of a practically separate polity in Macedonia, the Albanian community which constitutes at least 23 percent of the country’s population and has its own political parties. For these elections, however, moderates in the Macedonian Government formed a coalition with more nationalistic Albanian parties.
The campaign environment was open and competitive, with fewer government controls on access to information than before. In addition, election administration was more transparent, with opposition parties able to participate more fully. Given the close results of the first round, campaigning in districts with second-round voting was notably more negative and tense. In addition, there were some problems with the timely release of results, raising suspicions about the ruling parties willingness to fully respect the outcome. Problems like family- or group-voting were evident, but there were few signs of intentional manipulation during the voting. In the second round, however, there were some reports of party representatives checking voter registration cards outside polling stations, as well as more ominous proxy voting practices.
The VMRO-DPMNE/DA coalition emerged victorious, and the ruling SDSM conceded defeat. President Kiro Gligorov, whose office will be contested in 1999, selected VMRO-DPMNE head Ljupco Georgievski to form a new government. Georgievski has continued the SDSM’s practice of inviting Albanian parties to join the government, despite not needing these parties to form a government. Neither a calm change of government nor an effort to be inclusive are characteristic of politics in former Yugoslav republics, and these signs of political stability will hopefully enable Macedonia to steer clear of ethnic conflict on its own territory at a time when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is deploying an extraction force to assist unarmed civilian monitors in conflict-ridden Kosovo to the north.