Less than two years ago, after the bloody events in the Parliament on April 27, no one could be sure in which direction North Macedonia would move. But on June 1, that same year, nearly six months after the end of the country’s general elections, the government headed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was formed, and events, especially in the foreign policy sphere, began to unfold with film-like speed.
The government managed to sign the treaty on good-neighborliness with Bulgaria within a very short period of its formation. It has managed to overcome the whole year of skepticism and disbelief to overcome the decades-long dispute with Greece over the differences concerning the name of our country, and turn Athens, from our angry opponent, into our friend and strategic partner. Our country finally got the much expected NATO membership invitation and opened the prospects of now the Republic of North Macedonia for full membership in the EU.
With its concept of Macedonia as a society for all, and for the first time with joint candidates of the government coalition, SDSM managed to promote the civic versus the ethnic concept of parties, to win a major victory in the local elections in October that year, and win a victory for its candidate Stevo Pendarovski at the recent presidential elections.
With the end of the presidential elections in Macedonia, an important chapter of contemporary Macedonian political history has been completed. And with the election of Stevo Pendarovski as president, the last remaining danger of the possible blocking of Macedonia’s path to NATO and the EU has been removed.
With all these moves, Zaev’s government, and he personally, gained reputation in the international community, they became good news from the countries of the Western Balkans and the hope of moving all Balkan countries towards the EU, for peace, long-term stability and economic prosperity. Zaev has gained not only international support for his policies on foreign politics, but was also praised for his courageous leadership, vision, and for his great step forward.
At the same time, new conditions were created in the country for a fair election competition between the government and the opposition. Transparency was visibly increased in the work of all public institutions. There is no corruption of the media by the government, and there is significantly greater freedom of media, than before the last general elections. The opposition has the opportunities, through all the media and in direct debates with government leaders (it was unthinkable the previous 11 years), to present and prove their criticism. And citizens, who are free from blackmail, political pressure and corruption in voting, have significantly greater opportunities to express their free political will in elections. Much more favorable conditions have been created than before for a democratic and peaceful change of power in the country.
And this was exactly what enabled citizens to send a message to the prime minister and leader of SDSM in the first round of the presidential elections, for him not to think that the successes at the international level are enough to preserve the support and power in some of the next general elections.
Citizens told Zaev and the ruling coalition parties that they are dissatisfied with the fact that Gruevski and many others were allowed to flee from justice, that they are not satisfied with the slow trials, the SPO blockade, the unfulfilled promise about returning the stolen money, the slow reaction to the phenomena of nepotism or clues on corruption, the appointment of various advisers without clear criteria, the emergence of impunity for people from the government and the unfulfilled promises for more professional behavior of the public administration, improving public services and providing decent income for citizens.
Zaev, after the first round of the presidential elections, said that he “received the message from the citizens” and that after the end of the presidential elections, the government will be reshuffled, and that all central and local government officials, for which there is evidence that they abused or failed to exercise power as they should have, will be dismissed from their posts.
Perhaps such a promise by Prime Minister Zaev has led to increased turnout in the second round of presidential elections, and to the victory of the ruling coalition’s candidate, but the given word also commits him to do what he promised. If he does not act fast enough after he gave them his word, the public will have enough time for numerous speculation about the announced staffing changes, and the uncertainty of each of the ministers and the staff appointed and dismissed by the prime minister and the government can lead to lethargy and instability.
Prime Minister Zaev and his team are now facing a much more difficult task than resolving disputes with neighbors. North Macedonia enters a new phase of its development, for which the Government (without a new mandate) has very little time to demonstrate its capabilities. Citizens via social media already sent a message to the prime minister: “No sweep – no peace”.
Zaev and the parliamentary majority will have to deliver justice first of all, even though the judiciary is completely independent. First, they will have to find a solution for extending the mandate of the SPO, without accepting the blackmail of the opposition, and with the help of other instruments of government to exert strong pressure to unblock and speed up court procedures and processes through the dismissal of corrupt judges and encouraging prosecutors and the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Prime Minister Zaev must demonstrate his ability not only for one time but for the permanent release from the duty of some of his associates for the ineffective performance of their functions, and especially for the unethical behavior of those functions, and urgently to complete staffing changes in a number of institutions (such as MTV) in which the staff of the previous regime remained on the main positions.
It will have to offer evidence not only for the greater economic efficiency of this government than the previous one, but also as a leader of the Social Democratic Party, evidence of reducing the deep gap between the richest and the poorest and for greater social justice.
In other words, Zaev will have to prove that after his mandate, North Macedonia is not only put on the world map, and is not only more closely integrated with its neighbors and the world, but also that citizens are safer in it and their civil rights are more respected; there is more justice and justice is not selective; citizens have a better standard and get better public services from the state and the local government, that they are more successful in dealing with crime and corruption, and that we are not only a society of all equal citizens, but also a country in which every citizen has the opportunity to succeed in their profession and in their field of activity.
These are not minor obligations in the absence of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, when the opposition is put in the protection of the crime of the previous government and when there is a real short period of time that is left until the next elections. Of particular importance for Zaev’s team will be the ability to deal with the fake news and the slanders that come from the opposition, whose mouth is full of justice, while justice is exactly what the opposition is obstructing. The government will have to remember the so-called “Paradox of tolerance”. If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. After their eventual return to power, no one is going to tell you bravo, they will only say that you were naive and incapable.