Yesterday the accession protocol for Macedonia’s NATO membership was signed and at the same time the fence was removed in front of the Government. Two unconnected but symbolically close promises of the government before the election. Naturally, NATO is a disproportionately bigger promise, but I think the symbolism of these two parallel deliveries goes in the same, good direction. Just two years ago, such promises looked like science fiction. From today’s perspective, although still with a considerable amount of disbelief, we perceive them as everyday occurrences.
Therefore, I think it is important to look at the challenges that we will face as a society in 2019, but even more so, the political elites as bearers of the great and unavoidable changes that are ahead. This is certainly linked to the support that political elites will seek in this reform process.
First, it is obvious that in a global (for Macedonia) sense, Zaev’s narrative defeats Gruevski’s narrative, and then, Mickoski. The major direction in which the country has moved, and is now accelerating and moving, is that of Euro-Atlantic integrations, pro-Western changes, and internal reforms. This course, as time passes, will intensify, ie become mainstream, and will create a different kind of pressure on all major parties as it evolves into the main social narrative.
For VMRO-DPMNE, this pressure will reflect as a reduction in the ideological space of the party, pushing it more to the right from their present position, as a symbolic resistance to the dominant pro-Western narrative. However, as this alternative space is reduced, the only option for competitiveness will become more radical. In such circumstances, the opposition will face a reduced market for its current policies, which will increasingly be perceived as a romantic revisionism that has nothing to do with reality. For example, I do not know how Mickoski is planning to take everything back from the Prespa Agreement. Is he hiding the letters from the airport “Alexander the Great” somewhere in a depot, so immediately after coming to power, we see the workers replacing them. VMRO-DPMNE will be under pressure for substantial reforms, giving up resistance to the Prespa Agreement and deep party rebranding. For the time being, they do not show an awareness and a desire for this necessary process. This will lead to their stereotyping with regard to SDSM as the radical right that sparks emotions, but it is truly inalienable in relation to the dominant ideological direction. Thus, in the presidential election, even with the “softest” of the offered candidates, the VMRO-DPMNE can only hope for some kind of consolidation on the party base, but not victory.
As for SDSM, this gradual evolution of the narrative from science fiction to reality will make the voters no longer satisfied with that single story. The voters will process NATO and the EU, “register” them, will applaud for a few days, and then ask “where am I in this story”? That for SDSM will mean that their dominant agenda will no longer be able to “lean” only on the Euro-Atlantic integrations. Often we say that Macedonia has paid the price for the EU and NATO in advance, and is still waiting for the benefits. But at the same time, SDSM and the benefits paid in advance, through support to parliament and laurel wreaths that are now reaching their address from the international community. But that story for them will already become “stale,” and the voters will very soon start looking for new breakthroughs, especially on the domestic agenda: economy, fight against corruption, judiciary and the rule of law. It will require serious changes both in the composition and in the approach of political elites to the government. At the same time, the certain election of their candidate for president will only increase the impatience of results, because the electorate will experience them as an absolute master in Macedonia, with local, executive, and presidential power, but also as the sole culprit for everything that will not go well enough, or fast enough. Although they essentially cannot be threatened by the opposition (which is perceived as too radical) in the medium-run due to the stereotyping and authoritarianism of the Macedonian voters, their support will become more difficult, more vulnerable and more precarious.
In the ranks of DUI, in a somewhat different form, there will a crisis of ideological identity. With the breakthrough towards NATO and the EU, as well as by completing a package of issues that guarantee the position of the Albanians and their rights, DUI spends its primary raison d’être and will need to fight for a further vital reform on the future vitality and competitiveness of the market agenda and platform. If we accept that the integration (both of the Albanians in Macedonia and of Macedonia in NATO and the EU) is imminent, it can only be realized through additional integration with a strategic Macedonian partner, as an extended evolution in the political discourse – a consensual presidential candidate, and then pre-election parliamentary coalition, to finally promote joint lists. This should be added to the pressure for reforms in that party, fueled by the fact that it has been in power for a long time, and thus, accumulated a huge amount of dissatisfaction among voters. In such a situation, DUI will also be pressured to make changes.
We see that the three largest parties will be under pressure for changes in 2019, some dictated by the development of the general political and geo-strategic landscape, some dictated by their internal dynamics. The political will with which they will approach these changes and their success in them will greatly dictate whether they will find a new position on the Macedonian political market, or will create new options that will be driven by changes in the needs of the voters. In such turmoil, strange coalitions and combinations are not excluded, while political parties search for their new place under the Sun.