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The Macedonian Multipartism

A Note on the Typology of the Macedonian Party Arrangement

Maxmilián Strmiska

Within the province of the study of the varied collection of party systems of the post-communist democracies a special position belongs to the research of the contemporary Macedonian multipartism. This is in particular conditioned by some really remarkable features of plurality and polarity of this party arrangement. The purpose of this brief paper is to point out these peculiarities of the Macedonian multi-party system. Therefore the primary endeavour of this contribution is not an integral description and an explanation of the genesis of the Macedonian multipartism, as such an ambitious task would, both by the phenomenalistic and the theoretical and methodological sides, reach above the research horizon chosen for this occasion. Among other things it would also require a somewhat diffent prefiguration of the research field. However this paper is aimed at least to a partial contribution to such description and explanation while it also endeavours - by means of a very interesting confrontation from the point of view of research with the particular features of the Macedonian party system - at the clarification or “testing” of the bearing and heuristic capacity of some concepts and methodological solutions the use of which is possible not only with an analysis and a type characteristic of the party system in the Macedonian context but also in a wider frame of political party systems in the post-communist democracies.

Format and Mechanics

The Macedonian party arrangement is quite distinctly multiparty, which holds true both for its format (i.e. for its classification according to the classical terminology of Giovanni Sartori; cf. Sartori 1976) and for its mechanics or working logic (or, in other words, for its typology).
As far as the format of the Macedonian party and political arrangement is concerned, it is appropriate and expedient to differentiate three phases of its development defined by the individual parliamentary elections: 1) the period from 1990 to 1994 2) 1994 to 1998 3) the current period from parliamentary elections in Autumn 1998.
In the first “free” parliamentary elections of 1990 (obviously at that time Macedonia was still a formal part of Yugoslavia) the parliamentary representation was gained by no fewer than ten different formations with the exclusion of independent candidates. The assessment of their relevance was a somewhat complicated matter as the structured party system in the Macedonian context has only been in the process of formation and the then political scene could have hardly been pronounced stable and clearly organized. However taking into account the scope of electoral support and the initial coalition potential of the individual formations, or their respective roles in the opposition and the blackmail potential, it is possible to reach the conclusion - obviously with the substantial benefit granted by a time interval - that the number of relevant political parties has oscillated around six. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the League of the Communists of Macedonia - the Party for Democratic Transformation (SKM-PDP), the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) and the Alliance of Reformist Forces of Macedonia (SRSM) have ranked among relevant formations. To this group of four it was also possible to add the Socialist Forces - the Socialist Party (SS-SP), and with minor criticisms also the National Democratic Party (NDP). This definition of the sphere of relevant parties naturally had to be taken as temporary in its own way as political parties-units forming the system have very often undergone a precipitous development some parties were perishing, splitting and merging, possibly at least changing their names, other new parties were only emerging - and all this was happening within the changing power and political context (cf. Allcock 1994; Bliznakov 1994).
It is possible to state that even the following parliamentary elections of 1994 have not exerted radical changes to the format of Macedonian party arrangement, but regarding the boycott of the second round of the elections (within a majority electoral system with single-mandate districts) by the most important opposition parties, namely the VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party of Macedonia (DPM), the final electoral results as an indicator of the scope of the electoral support and of the party relevance have been somewhat devalued. The group of four main government parties, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM; the former SKM-PDP) the Liberal Party (LP; the former SRSM or the Alliance of Reformist Forces of Macedonia - the Liberal Party, SRSM-LP), the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) and the Socialist Party of Macedonia (SPM; the former SS-SP) was undoubtedly among relevant parties with coalition potential. However the status of relevant formation was almost reached by the National Democratic Party as well and - above all - a pronounced blackmail opposition potential was demonstrated by the extraparliamentary VMRO-DPMNE , and to a great extent also by the DP and the PDP-A. Despite the abnormal progress and results of the elections, despite the abnormal absence of a classical parliamentary opposition (at least up to the moment of departure of the liberals followed by the socialists from the government coalition) it was possible to state that the number of relevant formations has been moving within the band between five to seven or eight units for the most part of the given period.
This picture was basically confirmed by the last parliamentary elections of 1998. The status of relevant parties was gained or retained by the following formations: the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity and its new ally, the Democratic Alternative (DA), the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, the PDP and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (DPA, or the pre-election coalition of the Party for Democratic Prosperity of the Albanians, PDP-A, and the NDP), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP; the Liberal Party merged with the Democratic Party of Macedonia before the elections), and also by the Socialist Party of Macedonia, although at this time ballancing on the boundary between a relevant and more or less irrelevant formation from the viewpoint of institutional politics.
Therefore it is possible to state that the number of relevant parties of the Macedonian party system has for a long time oscillated around six, which would, within the province of Sartorian classification, situate this arrangement and the schemes ensueing from it to the boundary between limited and extreme pluralism.
As far as the characteristic of the working logic of the Macedonian multipartism is concerned, on the basis of absence of “one-coloured” parliamentary majorities and thus also one-party majoritarian governments and with regard to the way of formation of governmental coalitions it is possible to come to an opinion that within the Sartori typology this party arrangement would probably fall into the category of moderate pluralism and/or segmented pluralism. If we however exclude the 1994-1998 period as a transitory deviation, the post-election coalitions prove totally inevitable, while in the established mixed electoral system (from 1998) the electoral alliances also have a wide implementation. With regard to the "quality" and presentability of the governments an important and basically indispensable part of the government coalitions are the Albanian political parties (the PDP or DPA). The alternation of the government parties after the elections of 1998 has confirmed the superiority of moderating centripetal trends, and, last not least, also the necessity to exert certain elements of consociational democracy although without reaching a total elimination of mechanical predispositions to polarization and exertion of centrifugal trends at the peripheries of the system.
Admittedly the characteristic of the Macedonian multipartism as a moderate or segmented pluralism is far from comprehensive, and can be even misleading if it is not accompanied by a more detailed explanatory and specifying exposition. It is because this characteristic tells only little about the nature and dynamics of the development of the predominant patterns of interactions and the mechanical predispositions of the Macedonian multipartism, and - what is most important in this context - it leaves aside the problems of plurality and polarity of the Macedonian multipartism that are closely connected to these patterns and predispositions (cf. Strmiska 1998). Without the analysis of these problems it is impossible to comprehend the specific (and in some respects system generating) features of this arrangement or the overall logic of its reproduction and functioning.

Plurality and Polarity

The contemporary Macedonian multipartism is an evidently pluralistic and non-homogenous arrangement, at least in the sense that the political parties forming this arrangement have various identities available and use various legitimising and mobilising sources, while with some of them we undoubtedly have to do with really qualitatively, generically differing actors. It is a question to what extent it is possible to make an effective application of the schemes of the historically and ideologically interpreted “familles spirituelles” or “Lager” of the political parties in the Macedonian context. A rigorous application of the schemes developed for implementation in the Western-European environment would probably be counter-productive. However it is possible and to a degree desirable to try a rough division of the Macedonian party and political scene according to similar although in the right sense of the word not identical criteria used in the cases of “familles spirituelles” or “Lager” of the political parties in the liberal democratic countries. Circumscribing only to the circle of relevant parties we can distinguish four party and political streams or groupings that can bear work designations of “national-conservative”, “post-communist” (post-communist social-democratic and/or socialist), “liberal-democratic” and “ethnic” or “ethnical-nationalist”. The nationalist conservative grouping is represented by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, the post-communist parties of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia and Socialist Party of Macedonia, the liberal democratic of the Liberal Democratic Party and - as it seems for the time being - also the Democratic Alternative, while the Albanian parties PDP and DPA fall in a way into the residual category of ethnic parties.
Today it is obvious that because of their strength based on the scope of electoral support and their most important roles amongst Macedonian political parties, the VMRO-DPMNE and the SDSM represent the two major political poles (cf. Strmiska 1998). The formation of this basic bipolar competitive axis has already been indicated by the parliamentary elections of 1990, however the further development has been marked by various peripeties. It is possible to say that this axis has established itself as a key element of the institutional Macedonian politics only in 1998.
More unambiguous and quicker was the process of profiling of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia by transformation or renaming of the League of the Communists of Macedonia - the Party for Democratic Transformation (SKM-PDP). The SDSM is a very pragmatic, centrist and pro-Western oriented post-communist social democratic party. The successful “socialdemocratisation” of this main “succession organization” of the former governmental League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), or its Macedonian branch (SKM), has been facilitated by both the absence of another important social-democratic oriented formation (the Social Democratic Party of Macedonia, SDPM, has not asserted itself and in the end it has got into a subordinate position against the SDSM) and finding of a basically very beneficial , and for a long time more or less cooperative modus vivendi with the centrist reform liberals.
The development of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity has in many respects been more ambiguous than the case of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia. This was not so much a matter of a very dramatical inner fight in places, marked by splits and reorientation of the political line, but of a fact that the VMRO-DPMNE has undergone a relatively long and difficult process of seeking after a clearly defined position and role in the Macedonian party system, which was caused by various different inner and outer factors. At a backward view the most important moment of this process has on the one hand seemed to be the important initial electoral success of 1990 which has made this party a main representative of the nationalistic-conservative, anticommunist stream (obviously at the expense of other formations like for instance the Movement of Pan-Macedonian Action, MAAK), on the other hand a gradual departure from the original nationalistic and populistic radicalism towards a moderate, pragmatic and basically right-hand centrist political orientation (cf. Barbarovski and Dauti 1998). This has also been expressed by the endeavour to draw nearer ideologically to the Western European “popular” conservative parties.
The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - the Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity form two main poles around which the Macedonian party and political system is arranged. These two formations are the hearts of the potential alternative government coalitions currently none of the other political parties in Macedonia shows the neccessary prerequisites and the capacity required for the fulfilment of this role. In comparison to the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE other relevant parties can only strive for the position of minor poles although they also have different or separated identities and mobilisation resources at their disposal, these resources are incapable to ensure a role comparable to the VMRO-DPMNE and the SDSM. This statement holds true especially in the case of the Liberal Democratic Party (and its predecessors) which has been retaining this ambition until the recent past. Nevertheless it was revealed that the potential of “reform forces”, the later liberals, has not sufficed for them to assert themselves as the next, “third” main pole by the side of the post-communist social democrats and the VMRO-DMPNE, or directly at their expense. Consequently the liberals have been left with a maximum valorization of the relatively advantageous position “between” the two main poles as a realistic strategy. In essence the Democratic Alternative, a newly founded civic party with a remarkably vague ideological profile find themselves in a similar situation. The DA, though, has only recently become a relevant grouping mainly due to the cooperation with the VMRO-DPMNE. This is why for the time being it can neither be looked upon as a fully valuable, independent, relevant operation unit, nor can its stability and the scope of its own electoral potential be adequately assessed.
As far as the other relevant political parties forming the Macedonian party and political system are concerned, the Socialist Party of Macedonia has repeatedly proved as a bearer of interesting experiments with multi-ethnic alliances which have understandably included a cooperation with small ethnic parties and/or their groupings (namely the Movement for Cultural Cooperation and Civic Tolerance), including for instance the Democratic Party of the Turks in Macedonia (DPTM), Romanies formations like the Party for Complete Emancipation of the Romanies in Macedonia (PCERM) etc. However, its electoral potential and after all even its position in the party system of Macedonia have been assigning this party to the role of a rather supplementary one.
The most complicated task is the interpretation of the respective positions and roles of Albanian political parties within the Macedonian party system. Here we are not concerned with the fact that both the Party for Democratic Prosperity and the Democratic Party of the Albanians are relevant parties with coalition potential. This fact is now evident. A rather questionable matter is the evaluation of the dispositions of these parties to certain roles ensueing from their characters of ethnic parties and from their fixation to the ethnically defined electoral block. In this respect it is difficult to arrive to unambigous and sufficiently sound conclusions. The recent past has repeatedly shown how uneasy it is in the Macedonian case to make a proper analysis and evaluation - especially in the long run - of the working of ethnic moments on the profiling of the structure of competition and cooperation of the political parties. This highlight does not only relate to Albanian radical formations. It was symptomatic that for instance Duncan M. Perry in his descriptions of the Macedonian party and political system of the early nineties has considered the nationalists, both Macedonian and Albanian, as unpredictable “wildcards”, while the MAAK and VMRO-DPMNE political parties were even classed by him as “politically corrosive” groupings (Perry 1993: 35-37; cf. Perry 1997). However his estimates of further development regarding the expected decline of the mobilization potential and the system role of the parties representing “xenophobic nationalists” were totally erroneous. It has proved that even a relatively radical ethnic party like the Democratic Party of the Albanians (DPA) does not have to found its relevance on the demonstration of an undoubtedly blackmail potential but that it is capable to gain also a coalition potential, and to accept a share in the executive power and the related governmental shared responsibility. It cannot be stated, though, that by this very fact the elements of a potentially anti-system aiming of the DPA and the ethnic-political current represented by this party have been eliminated once for all, and it is not at all advisable to make premature generalisations. For the time being the best thing to do will be to define a statement that the remarkable diversification of the strategies pursued by the Democratic Party of the Albanians and the Party for Democratic Prosperity after the 1998 elections have been a marked contribution to the change and redefinition of the mechanical predispositions of the Macedonian party system. This change could facilitate the establishment of working logic of the characteristic mixture of elements of a moderate and segmented pluralism. Naturally only time will show whether the development in exactly this direction will form the future of Macedonian multipartism.


DA (Democratic Alternative);
DPA (Democratic Party of the Albanians);
DPM (Democratic Party of Macedonia);
DPTM (Democratic Party of the Turks in Macedonia);
LDP (Liberal Democratic Party);
LP (Liberal Party);
MAAK (Movement of Pan-Macedonian Action);
NDP (National Democratic Party);
PCERM (Party for Complete Emancipation of the Romanies in Macedonia);
PDP (Party for Democratic Prosperity);
PDP-A (Party for Democratic Prosperity of the Albanians);
SDPM (Social Democratic Party of Macedonia)
SDSM (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia);
SKM-PDP (League of the Communists of Macedonia - Party for Democratic Transformation);
SPM (Socialist Party of Macedonia);
SRSM (Alliance of Reformist Forces of Macedonia);
SRSM-LP (Alliance of Reformist Forces of Macedonia - Liberal Party);
SS-SP (Socialist Forces - Socialist Party);
VMRO-DMPNE (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity).

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