Since the general elections on December 11th 2016, in Macedonia, the process to form a government has been filled with ups and downs. Despite good hope for a coalition between Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), and the other Albanian parties, a new drama has unfolded as the President refused to hand the mandate to start negotiations for a coalition to Zoran Zaev, the leader of SDSM, who has manged to gather a parliamentary majority.
Since the surprising results of the elections, negotiations have been going on with the two victorious parties; SDSM and the conservative VMRO DPMNE – that has been in power since 2006 – between the Ethnic Albanian parties. As VMRO DPMNE received the most seats in the elections (51), the President, Gjorge Ivanov, handed them the mandate to form a coalition. The only chance for VMRO DPMNE to form a coalition with the needed majority was with DUI. Despite many negotiations with this party, they were unable to come to a consensus leading to VMRO DPMNE to miss the deadline to form a coalition and therefore losing the mandate. After VMRO DPMNE’s failure to follow up on the mandate, the President stated: “In other words I want first confirmation and proof of a majority, and then I will give a mandate for forming a government, as stipulated in the constitution”. This meant that all parties were free to negotiate and see how many seats they were able to get in the parliament. This allowed SDSM (49 seats) to start negotiations with DUI. After DUI formed a platform with the other Albanian parties; Besa and DPA-led Movement for Reform, they were in a good negotiation position for SDSM because SDSM needed the support of more parties than DUI in order to get the majority. This platform was created in cooperation with the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama (Socialist Party of Albania, SPA). They resulted in a joined platform with seven conditions which the party they would go in a coalition with would have to agree upon. Eventually SDSM negotiated with DUI about these conditions which resulted in Zaev collecting 67 signatures of the 120 MPs proving him a majority. Many people were led to believe that there would finally be progress in the creation of a new government in Macedonia consisting of SDSM, DUI, Besa and DPA-led Movement for Reform.
Before the President was able to react to Zaev’s proof of a majority, protests broke out on Monday February 27th. The deal Zaev struck with his coalition parties reportedly involved a new law making Albanian the second official language for the country. This was a reason for many people to go to the streets claiming that they wanted to defend their country’s sovereignty. The protesters fear that ethnic Macedonian interests are being betrayed by Zaev. In the following days the 27th, thousands of members and supporters of the former ruling party, VMRO DMPNE, took to the streets to protest against the formation of a new coalition. The protests have been organized by the Civic Initiative for a United Macedonia. Although they claim that political parties did not support the rally, demonstrators proceeded to the VMRO DPMNE party headquarters to ask the party leadership to join them. It is not uncommon for semi autoritarian regimes that pro government rallies take place, moreover, during Gruevski’s ruling there were sometimes pro government rallies.
As this standoff was leading to more and more tension, international leaders urged President Ivanov to offer the mandate to Zoran Zaev. The US State department urged Macedonian leaders to form a new government, because only a new government could end the crisis. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Gruevski is calling for new elections and it seems as if the President is following this call as well. This would not be shocking as the President was formally affiliated to the VMRO DPMNE party.
On March 1st, the President decided that he was not willing to give the mandate to SDSM despite the fact that SDSM has a majority and has followed exactly what the President decided after VMRO DPMNE failed to follow up the mandate. The President’s reasoning for his decision is that he thinks Zaev has the potential to “destroy the country” stating that the ethnic Albanian platform breached the constitution and the 2001 Ohrid Peace Accord which granted greater rights to the country’s ethnic Albanians. In order to get the mandate the President said that Zaev first has to publicly reject a “platform coming from a foreign country”. With this, he refers to the fact that the Albanian party platform was created by the parties while in Albania and in cooperation with the Albanian prime minister.
Following the President’s decision Zaev accused him of a coup d’état by refusing to award him the mandate. Zaev insisted that the president should immediately retract his decision. He stated that “Ivanov has performed a coup. He has pushed Macedonia into a constitutional and national crisis by denying the will of the majority of citizens and by preventing a legal and legitimate transfer of power”.
International pressure on the President is also building up, as over the past few days, the US State Department, the EU and NATO have all urged Macedonian politicians not to waste any more time and to form a new government as soon as possible as a way out of deep political crisis. Currently there is still hope that the influence of international pressure could lead to Zaev receiving the mandate from the President.