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Profile 27 Sep 10

Key political Parties in Macedonia

The main political players are divided into two ethnic blocs. Macedonians traditionally choose the party that forms the government. The Albanian camp produces its own champion, which is then usualy asked to join the government as a junior partner.

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 leader, Nikola Gruevski, currently the country’s most popular politician, pledges to maintain the pace of economic reforms amid the still present effects of the world financial crisis.

Such pledges helped VMRO-DPMNE in the past win the 2006 and 2008 general elections.

VMRO-DPMNE’s ratings 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.

In 2002, after an armed conflict erupted in 2001 between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the security forces, the party lost the election. Georgievski resigned and Gruevski took over, winning the 2006 elections, promising economic revival.

After failed talks with the biggest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, Gruevski invited VMRO-DPMNE’s now traditional partner, the DPA, into government. This angered the DUI, which said the move ignored the will of Albanian voters.

The party’s popularity peaked in the 2008 June early general election after which VMRO-DPMNE changed its coalition partner. After the DUI again beat the DPA in the election, it joined the coalition government instead of the DPA.
The ruling party together with its minor partners holds 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.

But 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 the beginning of 2010, VMRO-DPMNE’s popularity ratings started to fall by a small percentage.

International pressure on the government to solve the name issue continued without results. The EU has since urged the pace of reforms to accelerate.
Meanwhile, the government has promoted the grand revamp project for the capital, “Skopje 2014”. Its supporters say it will bring a vital degree of splendor to the capital, with impressive new concert halls, museums, monuments and other buildings drawing inspiration from the Classical architecture of Antiquity.

Opponents say it is 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.

Towards the end of 2010 and this year, opposition parties and some NGOs accused the ruling party of curbing media freedom after a court froze the assets of the pro-opposition A1 TV station. Critics said the government was trying to shut it down.

The party denied this, saying it had nothing to do with the court’s move.

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, in government they passed a law in 2004 on decentralisation 2004 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 in 2004, he handed the party leadership to Vlado Buckovski. After losing the 2006 elections, Radmila Sekerinska 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 had held 32 seats. Her successor, Zoran Zaev, was elected to lead the party temporarily until the awaited return of the revered 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 glory. After Crvenkovski's comeback, he made various changes, creating a team of close associates, many of them new faces in politics.
Last year, the party staged a large rally in front of government house in an attempt to boost the shaken confidence of party members after years of bad results and internal quarrels.

Since then, Crvenkovski has 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 this January 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 is critical of the government.

The party accused Gruevski of wanting to curb media freedom and of deliberately trying to shut down 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 Shekerinska as its prime minister-in waiting, while keeping on Crvenkovski as party leader.

In its election platform, the party has called for a referendum on any agreement that Macedonia strikes 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.

Despite its recent internal reforms, opinion polls show that the ratings of the Social Democrats are no match for those of Gruevski’s ruling VMRO-DPMNE.

Observers say the result of the elections will depend to a large extent on whether the Social Democrats can motivate undecided, swing voters to come out and vote after all.

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 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.

Although the DUI came first in the 2006 elections among Albanian voters, the VMRO-DPMNE winners chose 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 peace 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 after the June 2008 polls, prompting VMRO-DPMNE to abandon its traditional ethnic Albanian partner, the DPA, and offer the DUI a place in the government instead. The DUI won 18 seats in parliament in the 2008 elections.

Since becoming part of the government, the DPA has criticised the DUI for allegedly backtracking on its previously tough stance on the rights of the Albanian community.

In 2009, the DUI’s popularity fell, which was shown during the March presidential and local election. The party promoted Macedonia's ex-ambassador, Agron Buxhaku, in the presidential election and it won most of the smaller Albanian municipalities in the local elections, but lost a few of the bigger towns.

Since entering the government coalition led by VMRO-DPMNE, the DUI has been constructive on the country’s main diplomatic problem – the issue of the country’s name, which Greece disputes.
But one fraction in the party seeks a quicker solution to the dispute, enabling Macedonia to enter NATO and start negotiations with the EU on membership. Otherwise, they say, the DUI should leave the government.

Pressure increased on Nikola Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE-led government after December 2009 when Macedonia failed to gain a starting date to open negotiations with the EU.

As complaints grew that Gruevski was not planning to solve the sensitive name issue any time soon, the DUI remained in the government, insisting that hope of a solution remained and that leaving would only further complicate things.

The party suffered harsh criticism from the opposition Albanian parties who argued that the DUI had been marginalized inside Gruevski’s nationalistic 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 media scrutiny after anonymous sources submitted some files to the State Lustration Commission, a body tasked with discovering and removing former spies from public office.

The dossiers allegedly incriminated Ahmeti and his 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 party now seeks a pre-electoral agreement with VMRO-DPMNE, guaranteeing full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Accord.

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 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 has become more openly critical of VMRO-DPMNE. Thaci has also accused Gruevski of flirting with the DUI – and of undermining the DPA – after the two parties allegedly hatched a deal in May 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 afterwards, 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 the deputies defected and joined the newly formed New Democracy.

Thaci’s suspicion of the government’s intentions proved true after the June 2008 early general election, when VMRO-DPMNE invited the DUI to join the present government. Gruevski’s decision was prompted by the DPA’s second consecutive defeat among Albanian voterts in the elections to the DUI.

Since the 2008 election, the DPA’s activities were mainly characterised by a boycott of parliament. The DPA says the boycott is a reaction to the governing coalition’s disinterest in the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework agreement and in improving the position of the Albanian community.

In the 2009 elections, the DPA nominated Professor Mirushe Hodza as 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 then those from the 2008 polls.

The DPA deputies recently returned to parliament, and were present at the vote aimed at dissolving parliament before the early elections.

The party currently opts for a renewed deal between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians for a two-chamber parliament and for a new administrative and territorial map of the country.
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.

At 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 sparks 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 for the Social Democrats in 2009, the LDP started a new policy of acting entirely independently.

It now criticises both VMRO-DPMNE and the Social Democrats equally.
In January 2010, the LDP was the only opposition party that did not leave parliament along with the rest of the opposition parties, when they started a boycott to increase pressure for a snap election.

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 Democrat presidential candidate in 1999, but he was always in the shadow of 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 partner - 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, Skopj, losing to Koce Trajanovski, of VMRO-DPMNE.
In these elections, the New Social Democrats are again standing as part of the opposition Social Democrat-led bloc.

New Democracy, ND

New Democracy was born in September 2008 after its leader, Imer Selmani, left the DPA. A former senior DPA official, he had been health minister in Nikola Gruevski’s previous government.

The March 2009 presidential and local elections were the party's first major popularity test. Selmani ran for president, winning more then 100,000 votes, many from ethnic Macedonians.

He proclaimed himself Macedonia’s answer to Barack Obama, trying to break the long tradition of people voting only for politicians from their own ethnic community.

After the elections, the ND rhetoric became more nationalistic concerning the rights of ethnic Albanians in a bid to take more votes from the two better-established Albanian parties, the DUI and DPA.

New Democracy is as an opposition party. It has four MPs who transferred from DPA after the early elections in June 2008.
The party pledges to upgrade the Ohrid Peace Accord that ended the 2001 conflict between the Albanian insurgents and the security forces by providing greater rights to the Albanians.
They also want to see the Albanian language made official across the whole country and the principle of double majority introduced into the work of the courts.
This principle partly prevents domination by the largest ethnic group by envisaging that for any decision to pass, a majority of smaller ethnic groups must give their consent.

Other Minor Parties:

United for Macedonia
National Democratic Rebirth
Democratic Rightist Party
Liberal Party
Socialist Party of Macedonia
Democratic Union
New Alternative
Party of Greens in Macedonia
Pensioner’s Party of Macedonia
Democratic Union of Vlachs in Macedonia
VMRO - People’s Party
Party for Democratic Prosperity
National Democratic Union
Party of Free Democrats
Democratic Union of Albanians
Party for a European Future
Serbian Radical Party in Macedonia
Movement for National Unity of Turks
Social Democratic Party of Macedonia
Union of Tito’s Left Forces
Democratic Renewal of Macedonia
Democratic Party of Turks in Macedonia
Democratic Party of Serbs in Macedonia
Union of Roma in Macedonia
VMRO - Macedonian
United Party for Emancipation
Party of Justice
Party for Democratic Action in Macedonia
Party of Vlachs in Macedonia
Party for Integration of Roma
People’s Movement for Macedonia
Bosniak Democratic Party
Party of Greens
Democratic Union of Roma
Party of Workers and Farmers of Macedonia
Party for Full Emancipation of Roma

This article was made possible through the support of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Key political Parties in Macedonia

The main political players are divided into two ethnic blocs. Macedonians traditionally choose the party that forms the government. The Albanian camp produces its own champion, which is then usualy asked to join the government as a junior partner.