Hope wasted in disappointment

Hope wasted in disappointment

Ditmir Bushati, writing on the political changes and the leadership of the country in North Macedonia, analyzes not only the smell of changes there, but why they happened. How VMRO-DPMNE managed to recover from Gruevski's time.

Why are agreements not enough, or specifically NATO and the EU? Because politics at the end of the day is about the daily life of its citizens.

Bushati's post

As expected, the parliamentary and presidential elections in North Macedonia returned the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party to power. She secured almost the majority of seats in parliament needed to govern the country. Likewise, the candidate of this party, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, became the first female president, convincingly winning over her social-democratic rival, Stevo Pendarovski.

In the victory speech, the president-elect defined as a priority for the country "first the Balkans, then Europe", leaving the bitter taste of returning to the former nationalist rhetoric. At her swearing-in ceremony as president, in line with a public election campaign pledge, she did not refer to the constitutional name "North Macedonia", known as such internationally since the 2018 Prespa Agreement that ended the dispute several years with Greece.

In the first exchanges of congratulatory messages with counterparts from the countries of the region on the X social platform, the failure to mention Kosovo as a state and the failure to use its symbols stood out with the president of Kosovo. The president was satisfied with the use of the Albanian language, placing emphasis on "female synergy", due to the key positions of women in our region and on "the common European future".

The defeat of the social democrats was as expected as the victory of the conservatives. But it should be noted that they suffered a crushing defeat, the heaviest in their history, both in the presidential and parliamentary elections. For the first time, the Social Democrats find themselves as the third parliamentary force. Although they received more votes than the "European Front" coalition led by the DUI, due to the electoral system, the Social Democrats have one deputy less than the DUI coalition.

The new political movement ZNAM, led by the mayor of the municipality of Kumanovo, whose political origins can be found in the social-democratic party, scored a surprise result, obtaining an equal number of mandates with the left-wing party Levica. ZNAM is expected to be part of the new government.

The parliamentary elections marked a stronger competition between the Albanian parties: the coalition led by DUI on the one hand, and the parties of the opposition coalition VLEN, on the other. The opposition coalition VLEN secured a record number of votes, but could not exceed the number of votes of DUI, due to the latter's coalition with parties representing the various minorities in North Macedonia.

Although the number of deputies with Albanian nationality in the next parliament is large, the influence in decision-making will be more limited compared to the past, which necessitates the need for coordination between Albanians in the government and the opposition. While DUI goes into the opposition, after many years of governance with Macedonian partners of all political colors, VLEN is expected to have less power than DUI, and less chance of influencing the coalition, if we analyze the number of deputies of VMRO-DPMNE and ZNAM.

After sixteen years, with the emergence of DUI in the opposition, we will have a complete change of power in North Macedonia. Unlike governments led by social democrats, the government expected to be formed after the May 8 elections will not depend on coalition partners. DUI managed to dominate the Albanian political space in North Macedonia, becoming an irreplaceable partner of the Macedonian parties in co-governance.

The parties grouped in VLEN are facing a triple challenge. First, they must prove cohesion and unity among themselves on issues that are in the interest of Albanians and the country, not allowing division.

Second, the VLEN parties have to face a coalition partner like VMRO-DPMNE, which has repeatedly criticized the dominant position of DUI in the country's governance beyond the weight and number of votes. Also, it is a well-known fact that VMRO-DPMNE has been a vocal critic of the political platform of the Albanian parties of 2017, the partial implementation of which brought a significant improvement in the rights and representation of Albanians as a state-forming community in North Macedonia.

Thirdly, VLEN parties should focus on implementing the country's European agenda, actively participate in the processes that cement good neighborliness and above all take care of the advancement of the rights and status of Albanians as a state-forming community, not allowing the return of North Macedonia to the dark recesses of nationalism.

The return of VMRO-DPMNE, especially with this result, could not have been thought of until a while ago. The fall from power of this party in 2017 came as a result of a broad political and civic movement against the abuse of power of the government of Nikola Gruevski, ending a two-year political crisis and providing a political breath for the country, which was crowned on NATO membership and addressing bilateral disputes with neighbors.

The reasons for VMRO-DPMNE's sensational comeback are complex. They relate in part to the outgoing government's failure to deliver on the promise of more honest and effective governance, a key promise that mobilized citizens in protests against the Gruevski government and brought the Social Democrats to power. If Nikola Gruevski used nationalism to cover up bad governance, ironically, the outgoing government has, in recent years, used the European narrative for the same purpose. In a way the European narrative was turned upside down.

The political capital invested in the Prespa Agreement that ended disputes with Greece and secured NATO membership was unfortunately not rewarded by the EU. Citizens in North Macedonia lost faith in the EU and the political class lost ownership of the reform process. The experience of the neighboring country teaches us that it is not enough to solve bilateral issues to be pro-European. You must also govern fairly and effectively, fight corruption and organized crime, not coexist with it. Otherwise, popular hope turns to disappointment.

Has VMRO-DPMNE learned from the created situation? What about the bitter experience in governance? VMRO-DPMNE managed to successfully channel the citizens' frustration into a popular mandate for it. But the way the government will be built and the quality of governance are the test of the maturity of this political force.

First, despite the rhetoric that accompanied the election campaign and the attacks on the DUI, guaranteeing the irreversibility of the political processes embodied in the country's constitution that aim at full equality between the two main state-forming communities is a prerequisite for governing stability and legitimacy. Albania, as a good neighbor of North Macedonia, should not hesitate to convey this message, since the key to the success of consolidated neighborly relations lies precisely in the respect of inter-ethnic relations, where Albanians are the driving force and guarantor of Euro membership. -Atlantic of North Macedonia.

Secondly, a pragmatic approach is needed in the implementation of the Prespa Agreement with Greece, as the New Democracy did when it came to power in Greece in 2019, despite opposing this agreement and not voting for it when it was in opposition, on the basis of the well-known principle in international relations pacta sunt servanda.

Thirdly, with the same pragmatic approach, a process and the necessary votes in the parliament for the passage of constitutional changes, which would enable the removal of the Bulgarian veto from North Macedonia's European path, must be ensured.

Although in the short term it is easier to create a bigger mess than to address the "tyranny of the moment", taking the above steps would prove that VMRO-DPMNE has learned the right lessons from the past and that for him, regional democratic stability, good neighborliness and the country's membership in the EU are fully achievable objectives.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Tirana