In a blog post in December 2016 about the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Macedonia I already chose a pessimistic tone about a swift and stable coalition formation. The events since then have confirmed this pessimistic outlook. In the following I will briefly describe the problems preceding the election results and constitutional provisions regarding government formation. This is followed by an analysis of the coalition talks and the current crisis following President Ivanov’s decision not to agree to the formation of a new social-democratic government under a new Prime Minister, the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev.
On December 11, 2016 the Republic of Macedonia held parliamentary elections – after rescheduling two times (KAS 2016). The European Union had forced the different political groups to settle their conflict with the Pržino Agreement (European Commission 2015) and the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski was accused of being responsible for spying endeavors, allegedly using the information in the tapes to enhance his economic status and his personal political power. To further stoke up the conflict President Ivanov even pardoned some public figures accused in the wiretapping scandal – a decision he later revoked (see e.g. Casule 2016).
The parliamentary elections were supposed to solve this crisis but resulted in a narrow win of 51 seats (in the 120 seats parliament) by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and its chair, the former Prime Minister Gruevski. They were closely followed by the oppositional Social Democrats (SDSM) with 49 seats (Sekularac/Casule 2016). Art. 90 of the constitution stipulates a 10-days deadline within the president must ask the representative of the winning party to hold coalition talks. President Ivanov did just that and Gruevski had 20 days to organize a coalition majority to win the investiture vote in parliament. But the negotiations with the three ethnic-Albanian parties did not result in any coalition agreement with Gruevski. Instead Zoran Zaev and the Social Democrats could find support with the three minority parties and agreed on a coalition. But President Ivanov did not give Zaev the constitutionally required mandate for a new government (Verseck 2017).
President Ivanov based his decision officially on – what he calls a threat “of the unity of the country as the ethnic Albanian parties want greater rights for their community and a broader use of the Albanian language” (Dzhambazova 2017). This is a particularly odd claim as the ‘leading’ Social Democrats within this coalition are still mainly ethnic Macedonians. But further reasons that were listed that demands made by the Albanic minority parties concerning the official language and the status of the minority are allegedly unconstitutional (Verseck 2017). These are perceived – by some – as treats to the unity of the nation and an interference by another country.
Prior to the start of the coalition talks, these parties were determined to strengthen their claim on enhancing minority rights and better representation of Albanian demands. Among these demands were a constitutional amendment to recognize both Albanian and Macedonian as bilingual languages and “’equal participation’ in the country’s army, security, intelligence and judicial branches and a say in negotiations with Greece regarding a dispute over the country’s name.” (Testorides 2016) It is not clear how much of these demands will be met by the Social Democrats but Zaev presented his platform during a news conference. During this he explained that part of the coalition agreement was the “official use of Albanian and of other languages of ethnic minorities” (Marusic 2017). He also confirmed that he had met with constitutional experts and got their opinion on different aspects of a new language law. The overall sentiment was his intent to inform the reeling parts of the Macedonian population about his ideas.
Most observers agree that President Ivanov’s decision to withhold the mandate for government formation was, as Florian Bieber put it for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “an effort to ‘ethnicize’ a party conflict” (RFE/RL 2017). Even Federica Mogherini (Foreign Policy Chief European Union) has cautioned President Ivanov and reportedly asked him to “scale down the rhetoric” (Dzhambazova 2017). Her valid fear is that this inter-state conflict might turn into something large, affecting the whole – geopolitically sensitive – region. At the same time the Russian Foreign Ministry has declared its support for President Ivanov’s decision (Dzhambazova 2017).
Others have argued in a similar direction highlighting the instrumentalization of this political conflict. Not least, a lot of representatives within the VMRO-DPMNE have a lot to lose when facing an actual investigation and/or prosecution. This is something we can expect as soon as they lose power. What President Ivanov declared as necessary to guarantee the unity of the nation was called a “coup” (The Economist 2017) by the Social Democrats. Both sides seem to be determined to stand their ground: former Prime Minister Gruevski has called the ‘people’ to defend their state on state television (N1 TV 2017), opposition leader Zaev at the same time called for a peaceful transfer of power (Marusic 2017).
The influence of the European Union at this critical stage will be decisive, it is however unclear what strategy official EU representatives will pursue: today, March 22, Johannes Hahn (Commissioner European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations) will head to Skopje giving his input on the solution of the crisis (Hahn 2017). This will most probably be one of many attempts that might even lead to another round of parliamentary elections.
Casule, Kaev (2016): Macedonian president pardons 56 in wiretap scandal, U.S. raps move. April 13, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-wiretap-usa-idUSKCN0XA1ZB (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Dzhambazova, Boryana: Macedonia sinks deeper into post-election limbo, in: http://www.politico.eu/article/post-election-limbo-deepens-macedonian-stand-off-gjorge-ivanov/ (last accessed March 19, 2017)
European Commission (2015): Agreement in Skopje to overcome political crisis. July 15, in:
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/hahn/announcements/agreement-skopje-overcome-political-crisis_en (last accessed June 5, 2016).
Hahn, Johannes (2017): Twitter Feed, https://twitter.com/eu_near/status/843796060745162752 (last accessed March 20, 2017)
KAS (2016): The Republic of Macedonia’s 2016 Parliamentary Elections Handbook, in: http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_21036-1442-61-30.pdf?161201152443 (last accessed January 16, 2017)
Marusic, Sinisa Jakov (2017): Zaev Unveils Platform, Vows to Respect Macedonia’s Constitution, in: www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-s-zaev-reveals-new-govt-platform-03-10-2017 (last accessed March 19, 2017)
N1 TV (2017): Gruevski: Država napadnuta, potrebno je da je narod odbrani, in: http://rs.n1info.com/a236089/Svet/Region/Gruevski-Drzava-napadnuta-potrebno-je-da-je-narod-odbrani.html (last accessed March 19, 2017)
RFE/RL (2017): http://www.rferl.org/a/macedonia-analysis-albanian-law-political-crisis-gruevski-zaev-ivanov-vmro/28358253.html
Riedel, Sabine. 2005. Die Erfindung der Balkanvölker. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Sekularac, Ivana/Casule Kole (2016): Macedonia’s nationalists win election: official results. December 25, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-election-result-idUSKBN1412L2 (last accessed January 16, 2017)
Testorides, Konstantin (2017): Macedonia’s Ethnic Albanians Want Nation Declared Bilingual. January 7, in: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/macedonias-ethnic-albanians-nation-declared-bilingual-44621387 (last accessed January 16, 2017)
Verseck, Keno (2017): Wahlfälscher, Erpresser, Provokateure, in: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/mazedonien-machtkampf-droht-die-gesamte-region-zu-erfassen-a-1138223.html (last accessed March 19, 2017)
 In this post the constitutional name ‘Republic of Macedonia’ is used (as it is accepted by the majority of UN member states). For the Greek-Macedonian naming dispute, see e.g. Riedel (2005, 141ff.)