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North Macedonian Parliamentary Election: Kingmakers and Coalitions

The small landlocked country of North Macedonia in the Western Balkans was yet another country to go to the polls in 2020 after having first postponed its elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. Originally planned for April 12th, the snap parliamentary elections took place on July 15th with early voting for people who had contracted COVID-19, people in self-isolation, sick people and prisoners on July 13th and 14th.

The snap elections were called back in January when the centre-left Social Democratic Union’s (SDSM-S&D) leader, Zoran Zaev, resigned as Prime Minister. Zaev’s tenure saw the signing of the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the subsequent constitutional reform and official change of the country’s name to Republic of North Macedonia. This resulted in the betterment of its relations with the neighbouring country and the promise of a future in the EU. However, the European Union’s decision not to start membership negotiations throughout 2019 led to Zaev’s resignation, as the sentiment in the country was that the sacrifices bore no fruit. This move could most likely have been avoided if one takes into account the fact that a couple of months later the EU finally decided to begin membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

What happened?

The pre-election campaign saw the formation of the Можеме (We can) Coalition with the centre-left SDSM and the Albanian Besa Movement (~NI) as the largest parties against the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE (EPP) Coalition. The main issues were the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, corruption, EU accession and relations with neighbouring countries.

Other important parties that took part in the elections include additional Albanian minority parties – the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI~S&D), the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA ~ EPP) and the coalition of the Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa (AA/A~NI)—alongside the left-wing Levica (~ GUE/NGL) and the right-wing Integra (ECR).

DUI, having been a part of almost all governments in the last two decades, aimed to remain the largest albanian minority party and a kingmaker and campaigned for an Albanian Prime Minister. AA/A on the other hand aimed at upsetting DUI and taking its place in the political system. Lastly, DPA, Levica and Integra aimed to receive representation in parliament.

The turnout was significantly lower than past elections with only 52% of the registered voters exercising their right. The country’s current census is anything but accurate, even according to the State Statistical Office’s own director, but it is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic played a substantial role in the turnout. The turnout percentage is a record low for parliamentary elections for the 29-year old country.

Regarding the results, technical and security issues affected their announcement as the website of North Macedonia’s State Electoral Commission (SEC) was the victim of an alleged DDoS attack. The SEC ended up improvising by releasing provisional results in a livestream on YouTube and has insisted that the results are accurate. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in its preliminary report has expressed that “election day proceeded smoothly, despite technical challenges in publishing results and concerns related to voter registration”. However there have been thousands of official complaints and lawsuits filed, especially by the left-wing Levica.

The provisional results as announced by the SEC saw the coalition led by the centre-left SDSM in the lead with 35.89%, coming first in three of the six electoral districts. The coalition of the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE was a close second with 34.57% and was first in two of the electoral districts, while the albanian minority party DUI was third with 11.48% and came first in the remaining district, which has a majority Albanian population.

The coalition of Alliance of Albanians and Alternativa managed to gather 8.95% of the vote, while Levica climbed up to 4.1% from 1% in 2016 and DPA fell from 2.6% to 1.53%.

Results of the North Macedonian parliamentary election 2020. Dark red: SDSM, Red: VMRO-DPMNE, Blue: DUI, Purple: AA, Orange: DPA, Darkest red: Levica
Image: Djovanovik, with CC BY-SA 4.0

Electoral System: Unicameral Parliament of 120 MPs elected in six 20-seat electoral districts with seats allocated according to the d’Hondt method. There is a possibility of an extra three MPs from voters living abroad, but only if the number of votes from the diaspora community exceeds that of the elected candidate with the fewest votes in the previous election. In this election the diaspora community did not vote as not enough people registered to vote.

In terms of parliament seats the SDSM-led coalition received 46 out of the 120 seats and the centre-right coalition of VMRO-DPMNE came right behind with 44. DUI succeeded in becoming once again the largest Albanian party with 15 seats.  The remaining seats are divided among the coalition of the Alliance for Albanians and Alternativa, which will have 12 MPs, the left-wing Levica which will enter parliament with 2 and the centre-right albanian DPA which will have 1 seat.

Made with Flourish

Seats received by parties in North Macedonian parliamentary elections 2020

Where do we go from here?

With no party or coalition holding the 61 seats required for a majority in parliament, North Macedonia is once again looking at a coalition government. There are plenty of possible ways that a coalition could be established. A grand coalition of the two main parties or a DUI-led government with an Albanian Prime Minister have been raised as options but neither are the most likely outcome. Neither SDSM nor VMRO-DPMNE are keen on the possibility of an Albanian Prime Minister, while the grand coalition has only been raised as a way to cut DUI from the government altogether.

Other scenarios that have other small parties and the left-wing Levica in government with SDSM are not that probable, since Levica is against the country’s name change and also opposes NATO membership. Therefore the most probable outcome is a government led either by SDSM or by VMRO-DPMNE with DUI once again as a kingmaker. A potential VMRO-DPMNE coalition with DUI would still be 2 MPs short, requiring Levica, DPA or even Alternativa as possible partners.

It is important to note that the Albanian minority is much more favorable to SDSM than VMRO-DPMNE. In fact, an NDI poll published earlier this year saw only 7% of ethnic Albanians having a favorable or somewhat favorable view of VMRO-DPMNE with 49% having a favourable or somewhat favorable view of SDSM. Meanwhile, 82% of ethnic Albanians held an unfavourable or somewhat unfavourable view towards VMRO-DPME, while only 41% felt the same towards SDSM.

So despite the hostility and the many differences evident between DUI and SDSM during the pre-election campaign, and despite DUI having been in government with both parties in the past, for now DUI and SDSM may be more of a natural coalition. That being said, DUI will enjoy its role as a kingmaker. It will keep pressuring for an Albanian Prime Minister in the face of Naser Ziberi, former leader of the once prominent Albanian party Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP-*) and former deputy Prime Minister under Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM) and it will try to get as much as it can in negotiations with either party. The negotiations will most likely start with former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev being the first person offered the position of Prime Minister-Designate, so he can attempt to gather a majority in the newly elected parliament.

One final thing to note, regarding the path to a coalition government, is that the two main coalitions, one led by SDSM and one by VMRO-DPMNE, have a lot of smaller parties within them, some of which have won seats in parliament. So it’s not entirely up to the bigger parties what the MPs will do. And any government coalition will be very close to losing the majority in parliament, so the negotiations that will follow this result will have to be on all fronts.

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