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Background 21 Nov 16

Macedonia: Key Political Parties

Profiles of the main political parties in Macedonia.

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Skopje

VMRO-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, VMRO DPMNE

 


The centre-right ruling party has a Christian Democrat-style orientation and advocates admission to NATO and the European Union.

Its embattled leader, Nikola Gruevski, who was forced to step down as prime minister in early 2016, is still seen as the country’s most popular politician. He now pledges to maintain the pace of economic reforms and insists he was not involved in the mass illegal wiretapping scandal that rocked his country.

The party insists that unnamed foreign secret services were responsible for the wiretapping, and gave the wiretaps to the opposition in order to destabilise Macedonia.

VMRO DPMNE’s ratings in the past have benefited from Gruevski’s tough line on Greek demands that Macedonia change its name as the price for gaining membership of NATO and the EU.

The party, founded in 1990, sees itself as heir to the original VMRO, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, a 19th-century national liberation movement in the Ottoman Empire.

In Macedonia’s first multi-party elections in 1990, the party, then led by Ljubco Georgievski, came first but failed to form a government, after refusing to form a coalition with one of the ethnic Albanian parties.

After the party won again in 1998, VMRO DPMNE surprised observers by forming a coalition with the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.
In 1999, the VMRO DPMNE candidate, Boris Trajkovski, was elected Macedonia’s President. Once in office, however, Trajkovski pursued a moderate, non-party, line.

After an armed conflict erupted in 2001 with ethnic Albanian guerrillas, the party lost the following election in 2002. Georgievski then resigned and Gruevski took over. In the 2006 elections Gruevski won, promising economic revival.

After failed talks with the biggest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, Gruevski invited the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, into government. This angered the DUI, which said the move ignored the will of Albanian voters.

Following the 2008 June early general election, which VMRO DPMNE also won, it changed its coalition partner. As the DUI had again beaten the DPA in the election, the DUI was invited into the coalition government instead of the DPA. The ruling party and its minor partners held 63 of the 120 seats in parliament.

In the 2009 presidential and local elections, VMRO DPMNE won most mayoral posts, including the mayoralty of the capital, Skopje. Its candidate, Gjorge Ivanov, a university professor, not a VMRO-DPMNE member, also won the presidential elections in March, beating the Social Democrat, Ljubomir Frckoski.

At the end of summer 2009, under pressure from the European Commission, parliament passed several laws to expedite EU integration. Brussels then recommended a start to accession talks, widely seen as a triumph for the VMRO-DPMNE-led government.

However, Macedonia failed to gain a date for negotiations to start at the December 2009 EU summit owing to Greek objections over the “name” issue.

In 2010, VMRO DPMNE’s popularity ratings started to fall by a small percentage. However, the party still had comfortable lead over the main opposition Social Democrats, the SDSM.

This, plus pressure by the opposition for early elections, was used by VMRO-DPMNE to call new elections in June 2011, which it again won. However, this time it controlled only 56 of 123 seats in parliament. It again formed a government in coalition with the DUI.

Meanwhile, the government in 2010 promoted a grand revamp of the capital, known as “Skopje 2014”. Its supporters say gave a new splendour to the neglected capital, with impressive new concert halls, museums, monuments and other buildings drawing inspiration from Classical Antiquity.

Opponents have called it a waste of money and a diversion from the country’s real problems, such as high unemployment, poverty and stalled progress towards EU and NATO accession.

Since 2010, opposition parties and some NGOs have accused the ruling party of curbing media freedom. After the 2011 elections, the biggest private TV station closed following the arrest of its owner for tax fraud. A leader of the opposition United for Macedonia party, Ljube Boskovski, a former VMRO-DPMNE member, was also arrested for fraud. The party denied any involvement in these actions, saying it had nothing to do with judicial moves.

The biggest recent challenge to VMRO-DPMNE’s authority was the incidents in parliament on December 24, 2012, which created a serious political crisis. After protesting against the vote for the Budget Law for 2013, police threw opposition MPs out of parliament. Before this, security guards also expelled journalists from parliament.

Outside parliament, pro-government and pro-opposition groups clashed in the streets, prompting opposition deputies to boycott parliament, demanding early elections and threatening to boycott the April 2013 local elections. The crisis only ended in March 2013, following the conclusion of a deal facilitated by the EU and European parliamentarians.

Despite the crisis, controversies over Skopje 2014 and allegations of corruption in the media, VMRO-DPMNE maintained its high ratings. This was confirmed in the local elections in 2013, when the party won in almost all municipalities.

The party also won the 2014 early general and presidential elections.

In February 2015, the opposition began releasing batches of covertly-recorded tapes, which it said showed the VMRO-DPMNE-led government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers, politicians on all sides, businessmen, journalists, scholars and others, with the intention of keeping not only government critics but also Gruevski’s own ministers and legislators in check.

The opposition also claimed the tapes proved the truth of many criminal allegations against senior government members and their associates, including elaborate schemes to rig the 2013 local election and the 2014 general and presidential elections, manipulate the justice system, keep a firm grip on media and even cover up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

While many saw this as the beginning of the end for Gruevski and for his party, the VMRO DPMNE did not seem ready to give up just yet.

In a dramatic TV address in January 2015, which now looks like a pre-emptive strike on his part, Gruevski accused the opposition leader Zoran Zaev of attempting to blackmail him into resigning by threatening to publish illegally-acquired recorded materials involving members of the government. Zaev was later charged with espionage.

As protests calling for the government's resignation gained momentum, the ruling party reverted to well-proven populist tactics. It staged counter-rallies of its supporters and its members gave speeches accusing the opposition and civil society of working for foreign interests, all the while vowing not to step down.

When three of Gruevski's closest associates who were all deeply implicated in the wiretap scandal, Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska, Transport Minister Mile Janakieski and Head of the Secret Police Saso Mijalkov, resigned in May 2015, Gruevski spared no words in praising their work.

Their resignations came immediately after a bloody two-day shootout in the town of Kumanovo between the police and a group of ethnic Albanian gunmen that claimed the lives of eight policemen. Gruevski did not say whether they resigned under international pressure but the VMRO DPMNE strongly dismissed critics’ suspicions that the shootout might have been a government set-up aimed at diverting attention from growing calls for the premier’s resignation.

A series of tough crisis negotiations between Macedonia’s political parties, held under EU and US auspices then resulted, among other things, in a formation of an interim government set to prepare for pre-term polls and Gruevski's resignation from the prime ministerial position in early 2016.

The VMRO-DPMNE era has become known for rolling campaigns of government advertisements in the media, almost daily press conferences, and ministerial visits and statements promoting implemented projects and successes.

Amongst its critics however, the VMRO-DPMNE era will also be remembered for high unemployment, poverty and a significant drop in democratic freedoms.

In its latest annual progress report on Macedonia, published on December 9, the European Commission noted that the country continues to face the most significant crisis since its went through a brief armed conflict in 2001.

“Democracy and rule of law have been constantly challenged, in particular due to state capture affecting the functioning of democratic institutions and key areas of society. The country suffers from a divisive political culture and a lack of capacity for compromise,“ the report said.

The VMRO-DPMNE however insists that unemployment has fallen below 30 per cent, that it has combated poverty by increasing pensions and the salaries of civil servants, has aided agriculture with subsidies, and has attracted foreign investment. The party counters allegations of a decline in democratic freedoms by insisting that if there are any problems with democracy, they are a result of the political crisis for which it cannot be blamed.

As many of its top-ranking politicians, including Gruevski, now face criminal investigations and charges from the Special Prosecution, set last year to investigate the allegations that arise from the wiretaps, the current elections have seriously increased the stakes for the ruling party.

The VMRO DPMNE says it is seeking strong support at the ballot box to enable it to end what it calls the ‘externally imposed’ crisis and continue with economic reforms.

Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, SDSM

 


The SDSM is the successor to the League of Communists of Macedonia, the only lawful party from 1945 to 1990. It was the ruling party from 1992 to 1998, and from 2002 to 2006.

The SDSM is the leading opposition party, standing for liberal economic policies, a generally pragmatic approach and co-operation with the international community. It advocates flexibility in the row with Greece over the country’s name, in order to enable the country to join NATO.

The Social Democrats are seen as moderates who take a conciliatory attitude also towards ethnic minorities. With that in mind, while in government they passed a law in 2004 on decentralisation that helped open the way towards eventual EU membership.

Under the leadership of Macedonia’s ex-President, Branko Crvenkovski, the party lost the 1998 elections but regained power in 2002. Leading the “Together for Macedonia” alliance along with the Liberal Democratic Party, they subsequently formed a government with the largest Albanian player, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

After Crvenkovski was elected President of Macdonia in 2004, he handed the party leadership to Vlado Buckovski. After losing the 2006 elections, Radmila Sekerinska then took over.

The party’s popularity reached an all-time low in the June 2008 early elections when it won only 18 of the 120 seats in parliament, prompting Sekerinska to resign. Previously, it held 32 seats. Her successor, Zoran Zaev, was elected to lead the party temporarily until the expected return of Crvenkovski.

The party’s poor results continued in 2009 when, in the March local elections, the party won only a small number of mayoral posts.

Its presidential candidate, Ljubomir Frckoski, also lost the presidential election to the VMRO DPMNE candidate, Gjorge Ivanov.

After his presidential mandate expired in March 2009, Crvenkovski returned to his old post as party leader in June. Many members hoped this would revive the party’s former fortunes. After Crvenkovski’s comeback, he made various changes, creating a team of close associates, many of them new faces in politics.

In 2009, the party staged a large rally in front of government house in an attempt to boost the shaken confidence of party members following years of poor results and internal quarrels.

Crvenkovski at the same time offered his main opponent, Nikola Gruevski, full support in resolving the name dispute with Greece. At the same time, the Social Democrats pushed for early elections.

The party took more radical action in January 2011 when it started to boycott parliament along with other smaller opposition parties. The reason was the freezing of the bank account of Macedonia’s most popular TV station, A1, which was critical of the government.

The party accused Gruevski of wanting to curb media freedom and of deliberately trying to close the TV station.

After several months of negotiations with the government on an election, the party failed to obtain its demands. But Gruevski then accepted the challenge and called snap polls in June.

The party nominated Radmila Sekerinska as its prime minister-in waiting, while keeping Crvenkovski as party leader.

In its election platform, the party called for a referendum on any agreement that Macedonia might strike on its name with Greece. The party had previously criticized this idea, saying it would complicate the business of striking an unpopular but necessary deal with Greece.

The SDSM together with its minor coalition partners improved its results in the June 2011 elections, winning 42 seats, only 14 less than VMRO-DPMNE.

During 2011 and 2012 the SDSM tried to reorganize and spread its influence by criticizing the VMRO-DPMNE government - but with no great success. Its officials constantly accused the government of curbing human rights and media freedoms and of creating a state of fear among citizens.

In December 2013, the SDSM took radical steps and its MPs tried to block the majority in parliament from passing the Budget Law. Police then expelled opposition members from the chamber.

After this, the SDSM started to boycott parliament and staged a series of protests against the government at the beginning of 2013. This provoked a serious political crisis, which only ended with an agreement, facilitated by the EU, by which the SDSM agreed to take part in the April 2013 local elections.

In 2013, Zoran Zaev, mayor of the southeastern town of Strumica and vice-president of SDSM, was elected president of the party following the withdrawal of ex-president Crvenkovski from the public life.

At the 2014 general elections, the SDSM managed to increase its number of MPs, but again lost to the VMRO DPMNE.

In early 2015, the party revealed a massive illegal wiretapping scandal which seriously rocked the government led by the VMRO DPMNE. The party released batches of incriminating wiretapped conversations involving top government officials and accused the VMRO DPMNE’s leader of eavesdropping on more than 20,000 people in the country, including his government ministers.

Since then the party has been at the forefront of a wider movement that includes NGOs and civil rights activists seeking the democratisation of Macedonia. The party said that apart from various other misdeeds, the tapes that it made public also suggest that the government rigged the past two election cycles.

At these elections, the SDSM has included more non-partisan intellectuals and civil rights activists in its list of MP candidates, as well as more ethnic Albanians in the hope of getting wider support from voters.

Democratic Union for Integration, DUI

 


The largest ethnic Albanian party and VMRO DPMNE’s current partner in government was formed in June 2002 by former Albanian guerrilla leaders who had taken part in the 2001 insurrection. Ali Ahmeti became first party president.

The party’s main agenda is full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended the ethnic Albanian insurrection by offering greater rights to Albanians who make up about a quarter of the country’s population.

In the 2002 elections, the party won around 70 per cent of Albanian votes and secured 16 seats. From 2002 to 2006, it was part of a ruling coalition with the Social Democrats, SDSM.

Although the DUI came first in the 2006 elections among Albanian voters, the winner, VMRO DPMNE, asked its rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, to join the government. Protests and a boycott of parliament followed in 2007, delaying the passage of reformist laws.

In late 2007, the party returned to parliament after striking a deal with the then-government on the prompt passage of several remaining laws related to the Ohrid deal. The decision to go for early elections in June 2008 was a DUI initiative that won backing from the ruling party.

As expected, the party strengthened its position in the June 2008 elections, winning 18 seats.

This prompted VMRO DPMNE to abandon its traditional ethnic Albanian partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, and offer the DUI a place in the government instead.

After the DUI joined the government, the DPA accused it of backtracking on its previously tough stance concerning the rights of the Albanian community.

The DUI’s popularity fell in the March 2009 presidential and local election. The party nominated a former ambassador, Agron Buxhaku, in the presidential election and, in the local elections, won most of the smaller Albanian municipalities. However, it lost ground in several bigger towns.

Since entering into coalition with VMRO-DPMNE, the DUI has been moderate on the country’s main diplomatic issue, with Greece, over the country’s name.

Opposition Albanian parties meanwhile claimed that the DUI had become marginalized inside Gruevski’s nationalist government and had forgotten its promise to improve the rights of Albanians.

In autumn 2010, the party leader and several top party officials came under scrutiny after anonymous sources submitted files to the State Lustration Commission, a body tasked with discovering and removing former spies from public office.

The dossiers allegedly incriminated Ahmeti and party associates as former Yugoslav and Serbian secret service agents.

The lustration commission refused to examine the files, saying they could not be used as evidence because they were photocopies. The DUI accused its political opponents in the Albanian camp of fabricating the dossiers.

The 2011 snap elections again confirmed the popularity of the DUI in the Albanian political bloc, though it only won 15 seats, three less than in 2008.

The DUI continued to press for faster integration into the EU and NATO with some senior members meeting Greek officials as well as representatives of the international community in a bid to kick-start negotiations on the name issue.

After the elections, DUI obtained the post of vice-prime minister in charge of EU integrations, as well as the Defence Ministry, which had never before been run by an ethnic Albanian.

Responding to accusations that it no longer championed Albanian interests, the new Defence Minister, Fatmir Besimi, in August 2012 laid flowers on monument honoring Albanian fighters in the 2001armed conflict.

Later, the DUI opposed a law offering more benefits for members of the armed forces who fought in the 2001 conflict. This caused a crisis in government as VMRO DPMNE insisted on adoption of the law. However, the DUI did not leave the government over the dispute.

In the 2013 local elections, the DUI won back some of the bigger Albanian-majority towns it had lost in 2009, but lost the southwestern town of Struga to the DPA.

Despite being criticized as too obedient to Gruevski, DUI says it has been correct in remaining in government, and has fulfilled the main demands of the Albanian community.

At the end of 2013, the DUI threatened to boycott the 2014 presidential elections if a consensual candidate was not agreed with VMRO-DPMNE.

After this proposal was rejected, the DUI filled a motion for early elections, which leader of VMRO DPMNE, Gruevski, accepted. Some analysts saw the dispute as stage managed to create an excuse for snap elections.

After the 2014 general elections, DUI maintained its supremacy in the Albanian bloc, renewing its coalition with the VMRO DPMNE.

Initially, the party was not so badly hit by the wiretap revelations in early 2015. Despite many calls for it to leave the government, the DUI insisted that it needed to remain for the sake of Macedonia's stability.

But its ambiguous position on leaving the government, as well as several wiretaps that showed its top-ranking officials were closely tied to lucrative state businesses, started to take a toll, painting the party as one that considers profitable business activities more important than Albanians’ rights.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the party will have a hard time maintaining its leading position among the country’s Albanian parties.

DUI leader Ali Ahmeti is now asking for support in order to provide full equality for Albanians in Macedonia. The DUI's critics however say it is now too late for such promises after the party had its chance during its long period in power.

Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA

 


This ethnic Albanian opposition party was formed in 1997 by a merger of the Party for Democratic Prosperity of Albanians, PDPA, and the People’s Democratic Party, NDP. Both parties posed as more radical alternatives to the Party for Democratic Prosperity, a party from the 1990s that had dwindled in its last years.

Led for 10 years by Arben Xhaferi, his former right-hand man, Menduh Thaci, took over in 2007. Seen as a traditional partner of VMRO-DPMNE, the party formed part of the ruling coalition from 1998 to 2002, when it was eclipsed by the DUI.

In 2006, the DPA won 11 seats in parliament and the party re-entered government with VMRO-DPMNE over the objections of the DUI, which had won more seats than the DPA.

Following the change in leadership, the DPA became more openly critical of VMRO DPMNE. Thaci also accused Gruevski of flirting with the DUI – and of undermining the DPA – after the two parties allegedly hatched a deal in May 2006 to pass several laws that the DUI was pushing for.

The DPA threatened to leave the government and its announced departure in mid-March caused a crisis, two weeks ahead of the NATO summit in Bucharest, where Macedonia vainly hoped to receive an invitation to join. One week later, its leaders again became reconciled with the government.

The DPA won 11 seats in parliament in the 2008 elections, but a few months later four of its deputies defected and joined the newly formed New Democracy party.

Thaci’s suspicions about the government’s intentions proved true after the June 2008 election, when VMRO DPMNE then invited the DUI to join the government. Gruevski’s decision was prompted by the DPA’s second consecutive defeat among Albanian voters in the elections to the DUI.

In the 2009 elections, the DPA nominated Mirushe Hodza as its presidential candidate and won several larger Albanian populated municipalities. It did not win overall in terms of the number of mayoral posts, but the results were closer to the DUI than those in the 2008 polls.

Following a prolonged boycott, DPA deputies returned to parliament in 2011, and were present for the vote on dissolving parliament before the early elections.

In these elections, however, the DPA won only eight seats - almost half less than the DUI. This was partly down to the appearance of a new party, the National Democratic Rebirth, founded by a former DPA member, Rufi Osmani, which took a good portion of the DPA’s votes.

In the 2013 local elections, the DPA again lost the fight to the DUI, losing the most important town in the Albanian community, Tetovo, and gaining only the southwestern town of Struga.

In recent years, the DPA has accused the government - and the DUI - of not fulfilling the obligations of the Ohrid agreement.

The party also advocates a new deal between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians on the formation of a two-chamber parliament and a new administrative and territorial map of the country.

Running alone in the 2014 parliamentary election, the party again lost to the DUI among Albanians.

The wiretapping revelations in 2015 additionally dented its standing among voters as one covertly recorded tape suggested that its leader Thaci pledged support "to the death" for the then secret police chief Saso Mijalkov, who is cousin of then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

This party is now struggling to maintain its old popularity as several newly formed Albanian parties accuse it of being a ‘fake opposition’. Among them is the newly formed DPA - Movement for Reforms, which brings together ex-members of the DPA.

Liberal Democratic Party, LDP

 


Formed in 1997 after a merger between the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, the Liberals Democrats were a traditional partner to the Social Democrats.

The first leader, Petar Goshev, was the last president of the former League of Communists of Macedonia.

In the 2002 elections, after the former mayor of Skopje, Risto Penov, took over, the party won 12 seats as part of the “Together for Macedonia” alliance. Until 2006, it was part of the ruling coalition with the Social Democrats and the DUI.

After the 2006 elections, the former defence minister, Jovo Manasievski, was elected president. He continued with the Social Democrat alliance and the party formed part of the “Sun for a European Macedonia” coalition, which lost the June 2008 general election to VMRO DPMNE.

The party ran on its own in the 2009 elections, fielding its own presidential and mayoral candidates. Although generally critical of the ruling VMRO DPMNE-led coalition, at those elections the LDP exchanged barbs also with the Social Democrats, claiming the larger party had attempted to blackmail it to stay in its bloc.

After one of the LDP’s few winning mayoral candidates, Stevce Jakimovski, quit to join the Social Democrats in 2009, the LDP started a new policy of acting entirely independently.

During 2009-2011 it criticized both VMRO DPMNE and the Social Democrats equally.

In January 2011, the LDP was the only opposition party that did not leave parliament along with the rest of the opposition parties, when they launched a boycott to increase pressure for a snap election.

In the 2011 early elections, the LDP decided to run alone, which proved a mistake, as it did not win enough votes to enter parliament.

After these elections Andrej Zernovski was elected leader of the party. Under his leadership the LDP returned to the coalition led by SDSM and resumed its harsh criticism of the government.

In the 2013 local elections, supported by the coalition, Zernovski won the important municipality of Centar in the capital.

This was seen as a great victory, as it followed three rounds of voting and allegations of government irregularities. The fight for “Centar” received much publicity, as it was the home of the government’s cherished Skopje 2014 project.

At the early general elections in 2014, the LDP again ran as part of the coalition led by the SDSM, winning three seats in parliament. The party also gave full support to the SDSM’s presidential candidate in 2014, Stevo Pendarovski.

For the December 11 elections, the LDP has a new president at its helm, Goran Milevski, who succeeded Zernovski in 2015. The party is once more part of the opposition coalition led by the SDSM.

New Social Democratic Party, NSDP

 


The New Social Democratic Party was formed in December 2005. One of the founders is the prominent for Social Democrat, Tito Petkovski, who quit in November 2005 to form a new party with a similar social-democratic ideology.

Petkovski was the Social Democrats’ presidential candidate in 1999, but always felt overshadowed by Branko Crvenkovski and had disagreements with the Social Democrat leadership.

In the 2006 general elections, the NSDP won seven seats, enough to enter the government coalition with VMRO DPMNE and the DPA and take some ministerial posts.

Although the NSDP had disagreements with its coalition partners - and two of its MPs defected to VMRO-DPMNE - it stayed in the government until the elections.

In the early general elections of June 2008, however, the NSDP entered the Social-Democrat-led “Sun for a European Macedonia” coalition. It won only three mandates.

In the 2009 presidential and local elections, the NSDP stayed in the same company and participated in the elections in coalition with the Social Democrats.

The NSDP leader, Petkovski, stood as a joint candidate with the Social Democrats for the mayoralty of the capital, Skopje, losing to Koce Trajanovski, of VMRO DPMNE.

In the 2011 elections, the New Social Democrats again stood as part of the opposition Social Democrat-led bloc, winning four seats in parliament.

Since 2011, it has acted in coordination with the SDSM and allied parties, criticizing the government. In the meantime, Prime Minister Gruevski accused Petkovski of defamation after he claimed that Gruevski agreed to change the name of the country before the NATO summit in 2008.

The court ruled in Gruevski’s favour and ordered Petkovski to pay Gruevski 10,000 euro for insult and defamation.

In the 2014 early elections, the NSDP ran as part of the coalition led by the SDSM and won three parliamentary seats.

At these elections, it remains on its previous course and is again part of the same opposition bloc.

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