North Macedonia: Political parties need to revamp their election programs

North Macedonia: Political parties need to revamp their election programs

The economic plans of the two major parties in North Macedonia, SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE, for the elections that were to be held on Sunday, April 12, 2020, now seem meaningless, as the COVID-19 pandemic has overturned the entire political agenda.

When, at the beginning of February this year, the “On the Right Path” and “Reconstruction” election campaigns were launched by the leaders of the main political parties for the parliamentary elections, almost no one expected that North Macedonia instead of going to the polls in April, would face significant economic and social challenges as a result of the global coronavirus crisis.

The economic measures taken mainly now by the technical government, under the leadership of SDSM, and the proposals submitted almost daily by the opposition are largely unpopular, restrictive and compulsory due to the situation. They do not appear at all in the parties’ election programs, which were presented as the basis for raising the living standards of the citizens, reducing unemployment and attracting new investments.

The new measures promoted by SDSM after the postponement of the elections, which would take place on April 12, are mainly aimed at maintaining jobs and providing support to companies, while some employees saw a violent reduction in their salaries to 14.5 thousand dinars. On the other hand, the party’s election program provided for an average salary of 36,000 dinars, and a minimum salary of 18,000 dinars and the creation of 100,000 new jobs.

VMRO-DPMNE’s election program does not include, for example, the proposed measure to divert the contributions of the second pension pillar to the state treasury, which opposition party officials have been confirming daily in recent weeks as a solution to the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, two months ago, Hristijan Mickoski was talking about a 25% pay rise, a 20% pension increase and a tax cut of 8%.

At the end of the state of emergency, the parties will have to return to the programs they have prepared for the parliamentary elections. However, given the consequences that are expected to be caused by this very critical situation in the country, the question arises as to whether and to what extent the solutions proposed by Zaev and Mickoski in February and early March will be important for overcoming the crisis, that is, whether they will correspond to the new social reality. In this, it might be best to repair the damage first and only then think about prosperity and growth.

The parties are likely to have to start amending their election programs immediately, especially in the health sector, taking into account the experience gained in this area to address the situation with the new coronavirus. The government’s decree, which temporarily suspends the election process, essentially provides for the start of the election campaign from where it left off, immediately after the state of emergency ends. The Electoral Commission announced the moratorium on the suspension of the election process on March 22.

According to the decision of President Stevo Pendarovski, the state of emergency will last for 30 days, which is the maximum constitutional deadline and expires on April 16. However, given the intensification of restrictions on travel, as a result of the spread of coronavirus in the country and the prediction that the peak is expected at the end of the month, it is possible that the state of emergency will be extended for another 30 days. Until then, political actors will have a clearer picture of the consequences in other areas affected by the health crisis, as well as how the mood of voters in North Macedonia is affected.

At present, the parties express their commitments to integration, as in the midst of the global crisis of COVID-19, the country’s accession to NATO was formalized and it also received approval for the start of accession negotiations with the EU. In practice, this cancels the reason snap elections were called by Zaev in October 2019, due to the French “no” to North Macedonia for the start of accession negotiations, at the summit in Brussels./ibna