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The new government in Macedonia: High expectations, cautious optimism

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On 31 May 2017, the seemingly improbable transfer of power finished in Macedonia. A new ruling majority in Parliament made of SDSM, DUI and Alliance for Albanians with 62 votes out of 120 voted a new government. 44 out of 51 VMRO-DPMNE’s MPs voted against and 5 BESA’s MPs abstained from voting.

This concluded a precarious period of turmoil that entailed after parliamentary elections were held in December 2016. In the period of five months after the elections VMRO-DPMNE tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power by instigating a wave of nationalistic protests that increased political polarization and inter-ethnic hostilities, and culminated with brutal violence in Parliament on 27 April 2017. In matter of days after the visit of Hoyt Brian Yee, US Deputy Assistant Secretary, President Ivanov gave the mandate to Zoran Zaev and VMRO-DPMNE became a constructive opposition.

The newly formed government was greeted with high enthusiasm from the citizens and international community with expectations to restore democracy and set Macedonia back on EU and NATO integration track. Even though there is a high need for quick solutions and magical fixes, there is a sense of cautious optimism. There is a widespread understanding that the process to deconstruct a captured state is yet to unfold.

It is likely that there will be a prevalence of weak institutions and split loyalty among members of public administration in the short-term. Media freedoms and freedom of expression will not be restored overnight. It is unclear how long will it take the judges and prosecutors, that in the recent past were more willing to protect wrongdoers in power than to hold them accountable, to change their ways. VMRO-DPMNE has shown minimal acts of constructive parliamentary participation; however, their rhetoric remains inflammatory and they do not show the slightest intention to take responsibility for their actions.

There is a great overlap between the government’s announced priorities and the main underlined need: to restore justice and strengthen rule of law. This is the first necessary step to assure sustainability of democracy in Macedonia. Judicial reforms are highly needed and not only because they are high on the list of the EU reform priorities. Substantive judicial reforms are necessary for justice to be served and to set a standard for the current government and all public officials in future.

Restoring rule of law to address legal accountability for individual actions is a precondition to start a process of political and inter-ethnic reconciliation. This is the second necessary step. If democracy is to be sustainable in Macedonia, then the multi-ethnic society cannot remain politically fragmented and polarized. Political efforts have to be made to rebuild an inclusive and cohesive society which will share basic democratic values and favor Euro-Atlantic integration.

The political task of the new government is to lead the processes. It will face an uphill struggle and it will be a long-haul; however, there will be a lot of support coming from within the country and from abroad. Macedonia is at a critical juncture and has a solid chance to get out of the political crisis. For the future of the state and the nation, it cannot afford to miss this chance.

Dane Taleski

Dane Taleski received his PhD in Political Science from the Central European University in Budapest. His research interests are post-conflict democratization, transformation of rebel groups, political parties, ethnic politics, regional cooperation, EU integration and Southeast Europe. His work has been published in Democratization, Ethnopolitics, Suedosteuropa and New Balkan Politics, and various edited volumes. In 2014, he received a Civil Society Scholar Award from Open Society Institute in New York. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz (October 2015 – June 2016), and a Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies of South East Europe at the University of Rijeka (March – July, 2016). He was Visiting Lecturer at the University of Fribourg in fall 2016.
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