The FYROM name deal and the specter of elections


The scenario is becoming increasingly clear. The government of Zoran Zaev in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will try to seal the Prespes accord with a referendum and carry out a revision of the constitution by January. Meanwhile, the Greek government will seek to ratify the deal in Parliament in February or March. Panos Kammenos, leader of the junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL), will declare his opposition to the agreement and withdraw his MPs from the coalition. He will thereby try to convince the core of ANEL voters that he has kept his word, as it were, essentially bringing the government down over the Macedonia issue.

At this point, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be presented with two options: One will be to approve the deal with support from the political leftovers of the centrist To Potami party and some independent lawmakers; the other will be to declare that after losing Kammenos’s backing, the deal can no longer be approved.

In both cases, the leftist premier will naturally call snap elections for May 26, along with European Parliament and potentially local elections.

What does Tsipras expect to win out of this formula? And why does he think that this is a win-win scenario for himself and his coalition partner? Maybe he thinks that he can restore ANEL’s credibility at the very last moment and, in parallel, boost his center-left profile in the runup to the election. At the same time, he will be passing the hot potato to conservative leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his government. If Parliament has voted against the deal, the new government will have to renegotiate the agreement or endorse it opposite a skeptical international community. If Parliament has endorsed the deal, the new government will be expected to implement it.

The above scenario suits the opportunistic mentality of those in government. The problem is that in Greece and the Balkans, six months of political life is an eternity. Political polarization in Skopje and Athens has intensified and the deal has ushered in unpredictable forces. No one can be certain if Kammenos and his party will be able to stand the pressure until 2019, particularly if in Skopje the agreement starts to clear the hurdles of the referendum and the constitutional review. Neither can one safely predict that Zaev and his foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, will manage to overcome all of their more and less visible obstacles.

If everything goes according to plan, then I would predict that the government will fall in a staged manner in the first months of 2019 and the elections will be held in May.