The election campaign in Macedonia has proven fractious.
“Showing anger, boredom or frustration is undesirable” is one of the instructions given to police ahead of Macedonia’s snap parliamentary election on 5 June. Whether police officers’ sanguine spirit will rub off on voters is easy to doubt.
The campaign has proven fractious, in keeping with its origin, in a boycott of parliament by the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM). Nikola Gruevski, who has been prime minister since 2006, accepted the opposition’s challenge to hold early elections, bringing them forward from their scheduled date in mid-2012.
Two months of battling over details of the election ensued, with the result that, by election day, it will be more than three months since Gruevski announced his decision. Observers suggest that the SDSM’s battle over the election rules in part reflect a fear that Gruevski may have made the better gamble.
Certainly, an SDSM victory would upset the form book. Gruevski’s centre-right VMRO-DPMNE and its ethnic-Albanian partner in government, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), have 81 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and polls currently suggest that Gruevski’s party could win one out of every two votes cast.
Gruevski’s principal opponent in recent months, Branko Crvenkovski, is a veteran – a two-time prime minister and one-term president. The political flip side of Crvenkovski’s stature, though, is over-familiarity, something that Crvenkovski has implicitly acknowledged by deciding not to run. The party’s nominee for the premiership is, instead, Radmila Šekerinska, a former minister for European integration and the party’s leader in elections in 2008. The price of relative freshness and the prospect of the country’s first female prime minister is, however, uncertainty about where the real power would lie in an SDSM government. That is already a challenge for voters, as the SDSM leads a 16-party coalition.
Arguably the biggest wild card in the election is how Macedonians will react to the controversy that prompted the opposition to boycott parliament.
Last November, the police raided the A1 television station, and the station’s bank accounts, as well as those of three newspapers, were frozen. The police said their owner was a tax evader; the opposition saw this as a politically motivated suppression of the media. Two A1 journalists have joined the SDSM’s platform to argue that point.
The controversy has remained well-fuelled in the campaign, with the VMRO-DPMNE accusing A1 of being the SDSM’s “coalition partner” after it aired a report alleging that the governing party was coercing civil servants to vote for it.
The European Commission’s most recent report on Macedonia’s progress expressed concerns about media freedoms and about taxation, though it noted that the “operational capacity” of the tax office had “improved”. Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005.