Will North Macedonia continue following its Euro-Atlantic path or will it swerve and move towards the path of uncertainty?

  • Tetyana Demyanchuk
  • 15.7.2020 17:30

North Macedonia is holding crucial parliamentary elections – the country’s first election since the name change last year. Initially planned for April, the elections had to be delayed for three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The elections are decisive in showing whether the Balkan nation, which is the latest addition to the NATO family, will continue following its Euro-Atlantic path that was allowed for by the Prespa Agreement, or whether it will swerve and move towards the path of uncertainty for the next four years.

On Monday 13th, North Macedonia commenced its three-day voting in parliamentary elections, with the officials bringing the ballot boxes to the homes of the voters suffering from Covid-19 (or in quarantine). The country has been running a caretaker government since January, with pretty much the sole aim of organising the election.  

The opinion polls suggest a close race between the Social Democrat-led coalition Mozeme (“We Can”) and the VMRO-led coalition Obnova (“Renewal"). The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party is hoping to return to power after losing the previous election in 2016, following a decade of running the country in an authoritarian manner (that ended in the then leader of the party Nikola Gruevski fleeing to Hungary to avoid serving the sentence for abuse of power and corruption).



The opinion polls suggest a close race between the Social Democrat-led coalition Mozeme (“We Can”) and the VMRO-led coalition Obnova (“Renewal").

 

Zoran Zaev, the Social Democrat leader, who was holding the role of prime minister until January of this year, is hoping to return back to the office and continue working on his international agenda. He brought the country to NATO membership by sealing the Prespa Agreement in 2018, which resolved a long-standing issue over Macedonia's name with its southern neighbour Greece. Greece had been blocking the country’s accession to NATO for three decades. 

Furthermore, Zaev signed a friendship deal with Bulgaria, in an attempt to resolve issues with as many neighbouring countries that are part of the EU as possible. However, Zaev had to resign after the EU failed to offer North Macedonia a date to start membership talks. 

Zaev’s government lost its energy and political capital when it concentrated on the international issues, and failed to act on many of the domestic, especially economic, issues – North Macedonia is a landlocked country that is also one of Europe's poorest countries, with a per-capita GDP of around €5,300. Around half of its two million people live on the brink of poverty.

The VMRO’s leader Hristijan Mickoski who is Zaev’s main contender built his campaign on distinctly nationalist messages, especially appealing to those people who are unsatisfied with the country’s name change, dismiss the recent law that increased the rights of ethnic Albanians and oppose the deal with Bulgaria.

And even though both of the parties support the accession to the EU, the VMRO’s opposition of the name change can potentially translate into issues with the accession process. There is a serious danger of the Prespa agreement being severely undermined. Mickoski already said they would not be bound by the agreement and would not follow its provisions, which defeats the purpose of the agreement. This could lead to renewed tensions with Greece.

 

“And even though both of the parties support the accession to the EU, the VMRO’s opposition of the name change can potentially translate into issues with the accession process.”

 

And like in the rest of the Balkans, North Macedonia is a field where the West, Russia and China fight for the amount of influence they can exert. Moving away from the pro-European path, could give Russia a greater space for manoeuvre in a country where it already interferes.

Nonetheless, as citizens remain strongly supportive of North Macedonia joining the EU, the results of the vote depend on their evaluation of how much the VMRO’s position towards the name change can harm the accession process, and on their assessment of which party can deal with the health crisis and mitigate its economic impact best. 

Polls predict that neither of the main contending parties will win the needed 61 seats (out 120 seats) to be able to govern alone, meaning that the largest of the two will seek to govern with an ethnic Albanian country (most likely with the Democratic Union for Integration), with a total of 15 parties and coalitions running.

About author: Tetyana Demyanchuk

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