The most recent escalation of the political crisis in Macedonia has seen the president, Gjorge Ivanov, refuse to give a mandate to the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), Zoran Zaev, despite him heading a coalition with enough MPs to form a government. Now, official Russian declarations on the crisis, have elevated what was an internal matter to the status of ‘international affairs.’
We are currently seeing a political crisis that arose from a problem of state capture and involved high profile politicians engaging in corrupt practices being reshaped as a clash between international geopolitical interests. We are witnessing the Macedonian crisis becoming not only a matter of regional interest, due to the involvement of neighboring countries, but also an issue sparking wider geopolitical commentary, and interference.
The Russians, who have denounced the West’s ‘interference,’ support VMRO-DPMNE, the political party led by former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski. By doing so, they have clearly set the lines of East-West demarcation within Macedonia’s internal political environment.
This dynamic did not pre-exist in the country. It did not lead to the crisis. On the contrary, the crisis is completely internal in source, but is now being exploited by all sorts of actors who see it as an opportunity to gain some sort of political leverage.
Because of this, when analyzing current developments in Macedonia we must release ourselves from the geopolitical fetish that often comes in, one that blurs clarity and prevents a proper diagnosis of the events.
Of all the possible angles from which one can approach the Macedonian riddle, one aspect that has mostly been left out of the debate is the constitutional order of the country, and correctly so. It has only now become a matter of political rhetoric and analysis, due to the intervention by president Ivanov, who by now has a reputation of engaging in irrational, unconstitutional and harmful acts.
Now the constitution has been deployed by VMRO-DPMNE and its leader, Nikola Gruevski, in their propaganda against the potential new government. They claim that the SDSM have, by accepting demands from the ethnic Albanian parties with whom they form a coalition, endangered the basic principles of the state that are enshrined in the document of the constitution.
These claims can be immediately invalidated by examining Macedonian law. Any intervention in the constitution requires a two thirds majority vote in the parliament, one that would not be possible with the current parliamentary set up without the votes of VMRO-DPMNE MPs. All the rhetoric on the dangers to the constitution put forward by VMRO-DPMNE, and picked up by the president, remain purely a propaganda gesture, one which does not have any grounding in reality.
Another aspect of the crisis that relates to the constitution is more accurate, but unfortunately at this point, should not be the focus of attempts to find a solution. It is the constitutional provision that obliges the president of the country to give a mandate to the leader of the political party that can demonstrate the ability to form a parliamentary majority.
Zaev has provided 67 signatures, six more than required to ensure a majority in the parliament, meaning the president was bound by the constitution to give him a mandate. Nowhere in the text of this provision can one interpret the possibility for a president to evaluate and decide if he should give a mandate or not. The act of mandating is given as a prerogative to the president, but it is merely symbolic.
The president of Macedonia is not a bearer of sovereignty. He has less competences than all other higher state institutions. Because of this, several analysts and political figures have called for the parliament to convene, elect its speaker, then move to elect a new government.
This line of action would be fully within the legal and constitutional frameworks, because it is the parliament which is the highest democratic body in the country, and the bearer of sovereignty empowered with the right to elect a government.
Although this course of action would set a new precedent, as it would be the first time electing a government without a formal mandate from the president, and legal contestations would certainly follow, it would still be legal. However, herein lies the problem of pursuing a purely legal path out of the crisis.
VMRO-DPMNE has succeeded in generating a widespread wave of nationalist outbreak among its ethnic Macedonian voter base, exploiting the fact that the Albanian parties and the SDSM did not disclose the content of their coalition forming agreement.
Because of this, a purely legal path is not the best solution, and would generate even more tension and lead to a further escalation. It would also add more fuel to the existing nationalist flames, because it would be interpreted as a manipulation, aimed at circumventing the president, who has come forward “in defense of the state and constitutional order.”
What we have to advocate for now is a politics of de-escalation, for a rhetoric that will address the lack of transparency, debate and policy processes that enable a thorough assessment of decisions — decisions that have become more and more sensitive. Releasing the tension out of the current deadlock is the only way to avoid a total collapse of politics.
A failure to do so will create opportunities for more pre-political tribalism, and establish ethnicity-based positions from which it is hard to discuss matters, and even harder to reach progressive political positions. Progressive politics are always a result of clearly argued, advocated and explained solutions, ones that do not leave any space for corrupt elites to build their nationalist scarecrows all around society.
In the coming days, it is expected that we will see political leaders try to outmaneuver their political enemies. Macedonia has seen so much of this in recent years and we have all become hostages to these mindsets.
What we need now instead is strong involvement from the international community to pressure parties into finding a common path for de-escalation, coupled with a new energization of civil society to provide ideas for the nature of this path. It is only after institutional and general societal stabilization that an open and honest debate can be pursued, one that can address the needs of the various communities in the country. Without rehabilitation of the rule of law in the country, no one can enjoy their gained, or to-be gained, individual or collective rights.
We need a common struggle to ensure the basic premises of a functional democratic system, over which we can build a more inclusive and progressive society. This ideal, which has been compromised under the rule of Gruevski, should guide the political actions in the days to come in Macedonia.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.