The first European national elections of 2009 took place over the weekend, with Macedonia going to the polls on Sunday in the first round of its Presidential elections, choosing a replacement to outgoing incumbent Branko Crvenkovski. Crvenkovski, who had been Macedonia’s first post-independence Prime Minister before becoming President (in 2004), is from the Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija (SDSM), Macedonia’s Socialist International member party.
Following on from the SDSM losing parliamentary power in a general election of June 2008, it appears that the party’s run of bad form has continued, with the party’s nominee, Ljubomir Frčkoski trailing in a poor second, with 19.81% of the vote, to the centre-right Gjorgje Ivanov’s (of the wonderfully named Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) 33.95%.
With no candidate obtaining a majority, the country will now go to a second round run-off between Ivanov and Frčkoski on 5th April. With such a commanding lead, Ivanov would certainly seem a likely shoe-in for the Presidency. This seems all the more likely when it is considered where the votes freed up from eliminated candidates come from. Almost tying for third place, with around 14% of the vote each are Imer Selmani of the ethnic Albanian Demokracia e Re party and Ljube Boškoski, an independent right-winger and former minister, who was tried and acquitted of war crimes at The Hague in 2005.
Neither of these seem likely wellsprings of votes for the Social Democrats – in the former case, it should be noted that relations between the SDSM and the ethnic Albanian community have long been strained, dating back to its roots in the Tito-era Yugoslav Communist Party. As Prime Minister, Crvenkovski controversially ordered the removal of Albanian flags from government buildings, although nine years later as President he championed the legalisation of the flag. Ethnic identities run deeply in Macedonian politics, although it has been noted that Albanian candidate Selmani appears able to appeal to ethnic Macedonian voters as well as to his traditional base.
Regardless of a disapointing result for the left, it is nevertheless encouraging that the elections passed off without violence and apparently smoothly. It can only be hoped that this will be repeated for the second round.
Update – As predicted above, the centre-right candidate Gjorgje Ivanov more than comfortably won the second round on 5th April, taking 63% of the vote to Frčkoski’s 37%. This places both arms of Macedonia’s government under the control of the VMRO-DPMNO alliance.
Czech Republic – in other news, as they say, the possibility of a general election in the Czech Republic came closer following the narrow lossof a vote of confidence by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s minority centre-right government. An anti-government parlimentary majority was formed by the Social Democratic Party, the Bohemian and Moravian Communist Party and rebel members from Topolanek’s own party. If three attempts to form a new administration fail, the President must call new elections. With splits in the centre-right making coalition formation difficult, this has got to be a possibility. Of course, Topolanek has now put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons with his outspoken criticism, apparently in his role of EU President, of President Obama’s stimulus plan. How that will play in the Czech Republic remains to be seen.