Perspectives | COVID-19

On the eve of a hot political summer in North Macedonia

Elections in the pandemic era — Macedonian style.

By - 22.07.2020

After a long display as to who has more influence, the political parties agreed to schedule snap parliamentary elections in North Macedonia on Wednesday, July 15. It was declared a holiday, so that all citizens could vote. The voting period itself was extended — from seven in the morning until 9 p.m. 

Because the elections were held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to open the voting process two days prior; the sick, feeble, prison inmates, and those in home isolation voted separately.

It should be noted that the elections in North Macedonia were held at a moment when the country is facing a high number of registered infected cases (as of this writing there are 9,249 cases and 432 dead).

According to the data from the State Election Commission (DIK), the “We Can” (Možeme) coalition, led by the Social Democratic Party, won 36.13% of votes (or 46 MP seats), while the coalition headed by VMRO-DPMNE obtained 24.65% votes (or 44 parliament seats).

Within the Albanian party bloc, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) is the outright winner (with 11.57% and 15 MPs), whereas the Alliance for Albanians and the Alternative have won 8.79% and 12 parliament seats.

A controversial party, the Left (Levica), led by Dimitar Apasiev, with a leftist orientation but exceptionally nationalist rhetoric, similar to the one showcased by VMRO-DPMNE, won only 3.96% of votes (or 2 MPs), while the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) will have one member of parliament from its ranks.

These parliamentary elections are the tenth general and the fifth snap elections since the country declared independence in 1991.

Campaigns and promises

The elections were supposed to be held in November 2020 but Prime Minister Zaev called for a  date change after North Macedonia was not given an invitation to begin negotiations for EU accession in October last year.

In 2019, Zaev announced that he would organize snap elections if the state didn’t get a date to begin EU negotiations.

Snap elections were then scheduled for April 12 but were moved to July due to the pandemic. Despite the circumstances, the election turnout was almost 51%. Most voters respected protection measures — they wore masks and maintained social distance.

Eleven parties and four coalitions participated in this election cycle, which is fewer than the first parliamentary elections in 1990. The campaign lasted for 20 days; according to experts, it was the dirtiest one so far, although dirty campaigns aren’t unheard of in the Macedonian political arena.

Publishing wiretapped conversations of current politicians and a few business owners seems to have turned into a generally accepted practice, and not just some dirty, low-level play.

The “Možeme” coalition, made up of 25 parties, has led the campaign focusing on the results it has achieved so far.

This time around, secretly taped conversations between the secretary general of VMRO-DPMNE, Igor Janušev, and the former transport minister Mile Janakieski were published. According to the tape, the two men are heard making a deal on voter lists of state servants; that is, they are agreeing on the votes of employees working in the state administration.

The other side was also implicated, when alleged audio recordings were published, where Zoran Zaev, while in his role as Prime Minister, was swearing at Jordan Kamčev (Orce), a businessman who is believed to be North Macedonia’s richest person, and who was involved in several criminal activities while VMRO-DPMNE were in power. In the recording, Zaev claims all civic organizations are under his control.

The “Možeme” coalition, made up of 25 parties, including an Albanian one — Besa, has led the campaign focusing on the results it has achieved so far, such as NATO membership and a possible start of negotiations with the European Union.

On the other hand, the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE based its slogan on “Renewal” (Obnova). It isn’t clear what kind of “renewal” they’re referring to, considering their almost 11 years in power. Their campaign was simultaneously focused on personal attacks on Zaev, whom VMRO-DPMNE leader, Hristijan Mickovski, publicly accused of corruption.

The VMRO-DPMNE rhetoric is based on rejecting the Prespa Agreement signed by North Macedonia and Greece, as well as the one on good neighborly relations with Bulgaria, which are two documents that constitute part of the basis to begin EU negotiations.

Controversies and attacks

It’s important to note that the Albanian DUI party, led by Ali Ahmeti, began its promotion prior to the official campaign start. Their biggest proposal was to choose the first Albanian Prime Minister of North Macedonia. They proposed Naser Ziberi, former minister of labor and social policies, and member of the former Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP).

The public almost laughed at this proposition, with condemnations and comments about this being impossible and unnecessary. Even some Albanian ethnic parties, such as Besa and the Alliance for Albanians, rejected the notion, stating that DUI is close to becoming an opposition party, and that this suggestion was only a nationalist game.

At 9 p.m. on July 15, the moment when polling stations were closed, the “celebration” began.

However, if we look into the not so distant past, in 2017 Ahmeti proposed the Tirana Platform, supported by almost all Albanian parties. This platform had the plank that Albanian become the second official language in North Macedonia. Reactions to this notion were strong but the Law on Language Use was adopted in the end, making Albanian an official second language throughout the country, although its implementation was accompanied by numerous controversies. 

At 9 p.m. on July 15, the moment when polling stations were closed, the “celebration” began.

Prior to the final closing of polling stations, around 4 p.m. on Election Day, DIK’s website was hacked and the attack continued for 12 hours.

There has been plenty of speculation about this incident.

Some even think there was the possibility that someone on the inside enabled the hackers to enter the system, which was designed to count the votes independently, to fill in the database, and publish it on the website.

The DUNA company that sold the application to the commission said it wasn’t responsible. However, the public still remembers how this company won a tender without a written safety statement, and how it falsified data about its professional achievements.

The hacker’s attack was also directed toward the popular news outlet time.mk, where hackers set up a notification with insults directed to political parties.

At the same time, the State Commission for Corruption Prevention (DKSK) submitted four initiatives to investigate DIK to the State Prosecution. The initiatives refer to the unpublished tenders for procurement of election material for the elections held in 2016 and 2017, as well as for the 2018 referendum. They stated that DIK didn’t publish tenders themselves but made a direct deal with some printing shops, which is an illegal act that cost the state budget hundreds of thousands of euro.

Apart from all that, several parties have announced they will file complaints against the results, believing the elections were manipulated.

Photos circulating on Twitter point to the possibility that election results were manipulated in several municipalities where DUI received a large number of votes. What raises doubts is that no Albanians live in these municipalities, such as Vevčani. Similar issues occurred in Skopje’s municipalities of Karpoš and Kisela voda, where DUI has traditionally won 2 to 3 votes, until now. This time around, they carried the day in these places.

Election irregularities were recorded in the eastern parts of the country as well, where corruption and agitation incidents were noted, while a vehicle carrying election material from Gostivar to Skopje was set on fire.

After 48 hours, which is the legal deadline for responses, DIK rejected all 2142 objections, explaining that they worked in accordance with the constitutional laws, and that there was no need to manually count votes, as requested by some parties, because every ballot is publicly displayed during the vote count at polling stations.

A summer break before the new government

In the end, when the winner of these elections was declared, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE didn’t congratulate the Social Democrats for the election victory, claiming that the election process was hijacked and that they should actually form the new government.

According to the Macedonian constitution, the right to form the government is given to the party with the largest number of MPs.

In the case of the Macedonian Sobranje, a minimum of 61 MPs is required. When DIK submits the final result of votes counted to Sobranje’s president, that official has a 20-day deadline to convene a constitutive parliamentary session. The next step is for the country’s president to provide the mandate to the majority party within 10 days from the moment of constituting a new parliament. 

There are many postelection combinations at play.

Ali Ahmeti’s position means he gets to be the kingmaker once again and to use his 15 MPs to blackmail the mandate, applying pressure in order to get approval for his proposition to have an Albanian Prime Minister. If this happens, both Zaev and Mickovski, if either of them form a coalition with DUI, will break their campaign promise of not succumbing to blackmail.

As an additional spice to the political circus, former Prime Minister Zaev made a decision to go on vacation, and that the negotiations for the future government will start only after the national Ilinden holiday ( on August 2).

The rush to hold elections and put people in danger, under the excuse that the new government has to be formed as soon as possible so that the state could function properly, was unnecessary.

A hot political summer is coming, which the Macedonian political elite are used to. The government coalition heading out of the party kitchens will be similar to the ones that have been in power so far — a multi-headed monster that is going to be functional as long as it’s fulfilling party and business interests.

The people will, as always, be left aside, forgotten, sidelined and sheared like sheep. More accurately, this will happen to the ones who survive the coronavirus pandemic and don’t leave the country for good in the meantime.

And so it goes until the next election cycle, whatever that may be.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.