Macedonia's continued political instability has spread in the last several months after allegations of wiretapping were leveled against the government; last week's negotiations mediated by the EU have failed to find a solution to the issue and broker new elections among four main political actors.
The negotiations held in Brussels last week between the Macedonian political leaders and EU mediators were unsuccessful in bringing a resolution to the current impasse. Prime-minister Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE), Zoran Zaev (SDSM), Ali Ahmeti (DUI) and Menduh Thachi (DPA) continue to have significant disagreements and are taking hardline positions against one another. However, the failure has brought some fresh perspective onto actors’ interests in the process. This was observable in EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s disappointed tweet after concluding the unsuccessful negotiations last Tuesday, where he called for leadership in Macedonia among the disputing party leaders.
Below the Surface
While no party won outright in the failed negotiations, some certainly emerged in a better position relative to their political opponents. After years of accusations of pursuing anti-Western politics, Prime Minister Gruevski emerged as the most progressive and pro-European actor from the failed bargaining. His approach in the talks, coupled with the continued calls for fast Macedonian integration to NATO and the EU, cast him as a cooperative participant in the negotiations and helps push Brussels into his corner despite the number of corruption and spying allegations leveled against the Prime Minister. The preparedness for political maneuvering and concessions, supposedly shown at the negotiation table, has shifted the public’s perception away from a politician marred by the wire-tapping scandal toward a more positive light.
The opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, followed a risky strategy of entrenchment and was largely unwilling to consider a compromise with the government. Zaev’s ultimatum—that PM Gruevski immediately resign--- necessarily doomed the negotiations from the beginning. The subsequent barrage of public attacks against the mediators, including accusations of partiality in the negotiations, contributes to lower domestic and international support for the opposition. From a leader labelled as a supporter of reforms in the country through free and fair elections, he is now widely seen as a politician who is seeking a seat in at least a transition government without having an election.
Among the Albanian representatives, Ahmeti and Thachi, both appeared more prepared for the negoations with each presenting a meaningful platform for reform and resolution of the political crisis. Both leaders’ calls for a sober discussion illustrated their commitment to a unified solution minimizing the likelihood of ethnic division further in the negotiation process. In this way, both Albanian leaders benefited from an increase in domestic public support and positive international perceptions in relation to the other representatives at the negotiations.
Viewed marginally by the domestic audience but equally important as the political leaders in this process are the negotiation mediators, EU Commissioner Hahn and Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl. Their political profile is severely damaged with this round’s failure, and while both had high expectations going into the negotiating room their post-negotiation frustration is palpable. Therefore, the mediators (and the EU in general) may either withdraw or double down on their support for a EU mediated peace process but their choice will be largely informed by domestic political developments in the aftermath of Tuesday’s failure.
Ultimately, the Macedonian public is strongly affected by the political crisis. The instability negatively affects the country’s economic conditions and has already limited the expected number of tourists visiting Macedonia this season. Internationally, the Macedonia’s integration into NATO and the European Union is under scrutiny because of the political situation and an apparent inability of Skopje’s political elite to overcome narrow, personally motivated political engagement strategies. Finally, the open frustration among the population has all but destroyed any optimism—while business leaders are only concerned with surviving the political stalemate, younger people are seeking better conditions abroad.
The crisis can linger on and further cause losses for the Macedonian socio-economic reality. On the other hand, three de-escalation scenarios are possible. They solely depend on the immediate decisions by the Macedonian political leadership.
The first option is for the government to dissolve itself and call for early parliamentary elections this summer. The Albanian Democratic Union of Integration (DUI) has allegedly proposed fast elections this summer, accepted by PM Gruevski, illustrates some understanding among the governing coalition that early elections will minimize the damage while they may expect to lose some seats in the wiretapping scandal fallout. This maneuver would resolve some symptoms of the political crisis in terms of electoral legitimacy of the government. However, the structural deficiencies underlined by OSCE and the EU cannot be resolved by elections without the necessary reforms.
The second option, supported by OSCE, would continue negotiations and would, it is expected, lead to significant structural reforms across the political, economic, and social spheres. International observers contend this would be the most positive outcome and would provide the best conditions for long-term stability, but the obstacles to implementation are high considering the current political stalemate and potential factionalization among Macedonia’s constituent communities.
The third scenario, however, is likely to resolve the current crisis most rapidly and may open the space for dialogue going forward. Here, the government would unilaterally pursue reforms agreed on 2 June and published by DUI. These reforms, pursued in line with EU protocol, include: the creation of an ad hoc commission in the national assembly that will investigate the government wiretapping scandal, reforms in the public administration, the electoral code, media freedoms, and the rule of law.
The continued negotiations between the opposition and government are highly unlikely to resolve the political crisis. Should the current government successfully implement the agreed on reforms, the political space will exist for discussion among the political actors outside a high-pressure situation.
Photo courtesy of Republika.mk