Makeshift alliances threaten to derail democracy

14/08/2012

The political landscape in many countries in Southeast Europe is weak, and voters cease to be parties' main concern.

By Aleksandar Pavlevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 14/08/12

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Supporters of Macedonia's largest opposition party, Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, shout party slogans during a rally in Skopje. The party recently joined with archrivals the Democratic Party of Albanians to form a coalition. [Reuters]

Politicians and parties throughout the region are commonly abandoning their ideals and shifting with the political wind and to seize or maintain their grip on power, analysts say. The result is a confusing quagmire for voters who can no longer count on parties to represent their own beliefs.

"Political parties have long abandoned their traditional ideological and political strongholds and become so-called 'catch-all' parties, offering every citizen everything just to come to power," Biljana Vankovska, a professor at Law Faculty Justinian the First in Skopje, told SETimes.

The end result threatens to disenchant voters in the region's fledgling democracies.

"They've all let us down and no one is working for the people, only for themselves," Stanka Bilic, 72, of Belgrade told SETimes.

In Macedonia, the two most bitter political opponents have united to topple the government with a coalition that has no political ideology or defined political-economic programme. The coalition between the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), are forming what they are calling the "first multi-ethnic coalition" before the March 2013 local elections.

"Citizens and members of the parties themselves are confused as to what kind ideology they will promote and what they will offer when there is no elections programme -- besides the desire to come to power after six defeats in a row," Viktor Trifunovski, owner of Inter Kargo company, told SETimes.

Vankovska said that lacking ideological principles, parties are joining together in a haphazard manner with nothing in common and no shared vision of leadership.

"The citizens ... perceive the opposition as passive and without ideas on how to solve the economic crisis. The problems are systemic, and most of the politicians who have attempted to solve them have proved to be incapable and corrupt," Vankovska said.

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The SDP/SDA coalition in Bosnia and Herzegovina collapsed. [Reuters]

"The majority [of voters] in Macedonia have placed their trust in the government, rather, in the governning party VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition partner, six times in a row because it has offered a clear programme. For the first time in Macedonia's multi-party democracy, it is holding itself accountable to the public based on what kind of results it achieves," Stevko Dojciniski, a resident of Prilep, told SETimes.

Instead of the working towards a better political vision to improve practical public policies, there are mutual disqualifications and dishonesty between the left and right, which alienates citizens from politicians, according to analysts from the region.

"Many people think the solution is in the democratisation of political parties, or in replacing corrupt elites, or the emergence of new parties. Such steps can improve the situation, but only in the short term," Vankovska said.

"The trust voters put in the government is not only because the governing parties offer a programme and work transparently to achieve it, but also because the opposition has not offered alternative ideas or cadres," Branislav Todorovski, a Skopje resident, told SETimes.

In Serbia, the opposition Social Democratic Party, which was part of the Democratic Party ticket, left its coalition partner and joined the ruling coalition in mid-July.

"This was one of the hardest decisions I made along with my colleagues in the party. I am aware that it is morally questionable, and because of that I have a bitter taste in the mouth, but we choose between survival and extinction of SDPS," party leader Rasim Ljajic said on July 19th.

Djordje Vukovic, of the NGO Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, said the law on the election of members of parliament is not the main problem, but the selection of personnel within parties.

"The parties are now criticising the MPs who leave them switch to another caucus. That begs the question of how they recommended said MPs to the voters when they included them in their tickets," Vukovic told SETimes.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) coalition parties follow the principle "anyone with everyone," indicating just how difficult it is to be political leadership, let alone to a be quality alternative to the ruling political option.

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Albania's Socialist Party of Albania, led by Edi Rama, created a two-year political standoff. [Reuters]

Currently, it is difficult to say who is in power and who is the opposition to BiH. During the October 2010 general elections, the state got a government in which the winning parties -- the Social Democrats (SDP) and the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) -- joined in a coalition.

But the coalition collapsed last June due to disagreements about the BiH's political course, which left the SDA in opposition.

SDA had previously accused the SDP of giving greater authority to the cantons, and therefore undermining the political stability of BiH.

"The parties lost their ideological meaning because personal interests have become their priority. Thus, the voters ceased to be the medium for improving their future. That is the real reason why the SDA is leaving the leading political position in BiH, and likely is going to our memories. The voters simply do not recognise themselves in the same ideology from the war until today," Mirza Becirovic, professor of University of Tuzla, told SETimes.

Experts say lack of political elites is a major cause of the problem.

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"Their creation usually takes a long time, but in less developed countries it takes longer, and that is why we have this situation of unconsolidated opposition, though we may say the same about the ruling parties," Qani Mehmedi, editor of Infopress and a Pristina based political commentator, told SETimes.

He explained that what the opposition is known for in Albania is contesting the election results to the point of stalling the political system.

"If Albanians celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Albanian state, we at the same time are also marking 100 years of the abuse of Albanians votes. Without resolving the problem of fully respecting the vote, we have not fixed the position, opposition or the state," Mehmedi said.

SETimes correspondents Igor Jovanovic and Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this article.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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