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Macedonian movements May 20, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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Macedonian movementsMacedonian prime minister and VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski
Photo: Reuters

Promises are filling the air in Skopje and the surrounding territory that encompasses Macedonia in the run-up to the June 5 snap parliamentary elections, although the big question in the election is not whether prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s party will win, but what he will do after he wins.

Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE has won all recent elections, including the 2006 and 2008 parliamentary elections and the party’s triumph in 2009 that saw Gjorge Ivanov elected president.

In April 2009, Ivanov got more than 63 per cent of the vote on the second round. Less than a year earlier, in elections called after Greece blocked an invitation to Macedonia to join Nato because of the long-standing dispute about the use of the name “Macedonia”, Gruevski’s party got close to 49 per cent.

Going by recent polls, such as the one released on April 30 by the Institute for Political Studies, Gruevski is set for victory, with the survey showing his party having 23 per cent support, 10 per cent more than its closest rival, the Social Democracy Union of Macedonia (SDSM). Individually, according to the poll, Gruevski has close to 24 per cent approval, with the SDSM’s Branko Crvenkovski at 9.1 per cent.

Given that previous elections saw violence in ethnic Albanian areas and widespread concerns about irregularities, 30 parties got together just before campaigning officially started on May 16 to sign a code pledging fair and democratic elections.

Crvenkovski, who said that Gruevski’s signing of the code was “hypocritical”, has challenged the incumbent prime minister to a television debate and on May 17 managed to bring out more than 58 000 people to an opposition rally in the Macedonian capital.

Gruevski, who declined the challenge to face his opponent on live television, meanwhile was the subject of allegations in the media that public servants were conducting election campaigning for the ruling party, some during working hours, others while on ordinary or sick leave.

While the Macedonia name dispute is the best-known issue in domestic politics and colours all multilateral relations – a succession of United Nations, European Union and Nato leaders have urged an end to the stand-off – for most Macedonians, the real concern is the impact of the economic crisis, which has left an already vulnerable and small economy hard-hit.

In response, according to a report in Skopje-based daily Dnevnik on May 17, parties are spewing out promises on the money front; tax cuts, housing subsidies, compensation for increased loan interest rates, better pay for public servants, more money for infrastructure and for schools.

Temperatures in Macedonian politics have been heightened for months because of continued clashes between Gruevski and media aligned to wealthy business person Velijia Ramkovski. It was this clash that ultimately led to elections being called about a year ahead of schedule.

Gruevski’s law enforcement, alleging tax evasion, came down hard on Ramkovski, television station A1 and other media owned by the local tycoon.

While Ramkovski some years ago was a political ally of Gruevski, the two fell out about three years ago and Gruevski’s government was targeted for hostile reporting by A1, a move that Ramkovski’s detractors claim is typical of him.

The imbroglio, which led to A1 staff broadcasting from outside their building after a raid, in turn led to an opposition boycott of parliament and ultimately to the calling of the June 5 snap election.

Commentators have noted that the campaigning so far has been sharply negative.

Nikola Spasov, a researcher at local opinion survey agency Rating, was quoted by Balkan Insight as having told Dnevnik: “It is staggering to see how many negative (political) advertisements appeared in media and newspapers in the past few weeks”.

It was unclear, Balkan Insight said, whether the negative campaigning would have any effect on Macedonia’s traditionally high number of undecided voters, while Spasov and Klime Babunski, communications professor at the Skopje-based Institute of Sociological, Political and Juridical Research, said that most people had made up their minds but did not want to disclose for whom they would be voting.

In Athens
For those outside Macedonia, most would be looking for any prospect of an end to the name dispute.

On May 13, a foreign ministry spokesperson in Athens told diplomatic correspondents: “We expect the government that comes out of the elections to have a constructive stance that will allow us to make progress.

“The proposals Greece has put on the table are very constructive and comprise a framework for our really reaching a just solution, a viable solution, a solution that will allow the two countries to improve their bilateral relations; a solution that will open the way to FYROM’s Euroatlantic perspective,” the spokesperson said.

This is what Athens was waiting for from Skopje. The solution would have to be a solution with a geographical qualifier, for use by everyone, the spokesperson said.

Greek daily Naftemporiki, however, writing on May 17, said that Greek analysts were certain that Gruevski would get another term in office, which would mean that Athens would not be able to make any headway in the face of Gruevski’s hard-line approach.



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