Volatility in pre-poll FYROM

SKOPJE – As the September 15 elections in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) approach, anxiety over maintaining a calm political climate is mounting in Skopje. There is widespread concern among Western diplomats and representatives of the international community who have undertaken to ensure the proper conduct of the elections, which are crucial to the peacekeeping process. They fear something might happen at any moment to disturb an atmosphere that is already tense after the murders of two policemen, bomb attacks on politicians and incendiary statements by leading political figures. They sense the danger of extremist elements causing an incident that could spark an uncontrollable situation, since the Slav-Macedonian and ethnic Albanian communities are still deeply divided by the recent war. The killing in cold blood of two policemen in Albanian-populated Gostivar, and a hand grenade attack on the offices of Ali Ahmeti, the former leader of the rebel National Liberation Army and now a party leader, have alarmed EU and NATO representatives in Skopje, who have warned hardliners in the government and the ethnic Albanian leadership that they will not allow any disruption of peace in the pre-election period. The international community wants these elections conducted normally so that no side can cast the slightest doubt on the result, which would lead to permanent political instability. War wounds have not yet healed and the West is exerting pressure for the implementation of the peacekeeping agreement of Ohrid, in which ethnic Albanians and Slav-Macedonians determined the framework of a future harmonious coexistence. «In Skopje there is a fuse connected to three bombs: FYROM, Kosovo and Montenegro,» a European diplomat told Kathimerini, emphasizing the tremendous importance of political stability in this newly formed state. The peace agreement has not come up in election debates among the parties, but concern has arisen among international representatives over the rhetoric of the VMRO-DPMNE government, which for electoral purposes has invested in Slav-Macedonian displeasure with international intervention in the 2001 crisis. In his campaign speeches, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski himself readily cites the dangers of «ethnic threats,» accusing the international forces which prevented extensive civil conflict in his country of ‘trying to perpetuate instability in the region.» The vacillations of Georgievski and his party over international relations and the Ohrid accord have turned the interest and preferences of the international community toward the opposition Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, and its leader, former Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who proved a reliable interlocutor during the crisis and who receives high levels of support from voters in opinion polls. Despite Georgievski’s efforts to focus the pre-election debate on nationalism and anti-Western rhetoric, his party is under attack from all directions for corruption and inability to tackle the problems of the economy: 40 percent of the population live below the poverty level and unemployment is sky-high. Whichever of the two major Slav-Macedonian parties wins the elections, the ethnic Albanians – barring any unexpected events – will be the decisive post-election factor. There can be no viable government without their participation, and discussion at diplomatic missions now focuses on who will collaborate with whom. Will Crvenkovski form a government if – and there is every indication it will – the coalition he leads, Together for Macedonia, gets the most preferences, together with former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti’s party, the Democratic Union for Integration, which seems likely to win the ethnic Albanian vote? How would Slav-Macedonian public opinion react to collaboration with the «bloodstained terrorist?» Will the VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party of Albanians of Arben Xhaferi manage to get the magical number of 65 seats so that Georgievski can form another government? This is thought to be unlikely in Skopje. But post-election alliances are not the chief current priority for the international community that is actually organizing these elections.