The developments in the past several months speak of a Social Democratic Union of Macedonia-led Government that is disconnected from the needs of the citizens they were elected to govern. The truth of the matter is that the SDUM’s Government even with its new mandate, is mostly comprised of career politicians who are not able to lead the country forward.
Even though the parliamentary elections were held on July 15, 2020, the Government was formed at the end of August, which means that its “first 100 days” have now finished and we can look back at their progress and judge them according to the achievements.
The elections were planned to be held on April 12, and the Assembly dissolved on February 15, 2020. The planned start of the election campaign in March overlapped with the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country as well. That led to several postponements of the election. With the Assembly dissolved, the President pronounced a state of emergency for over three consecutive months. Thus, the caretaker government, created in January, that was originally supposed to have a limited scope of work and prepare the institutions for holding elections, found itself with power concentrated solely in its hands. Composed predominantly of officials from the ruling left SDUM and DUI, and the opposition represented mainly by the Minister of Interior from VMRO-DPMNE, it found itself trapped in the “new Covid-19 reality”.
This new reality meant that the Government was able to swiftly adopt decisions and laws aimed at tackling the pandemic, without any input from citizens and their democratically elected representatives in the Assembly. This would have been perfectly acceptable if the Government only adopted Covid-19 related decisions only during the state of emergency and prepared the terrain for holding democratic elections. Instead, without the watchful eyes of the Assembly and civil society to hold them accountable, the Government adopted various decisions that were not remotely Covid-19 related, such as а rulebook on export of uncut diamonds.
The pandemic resurrected all the underlying problems of this system that have been dormant since our independence from Yugoslavia and its communist dictatorship. Health-care facilities are in a dire condition, especially outside the capital Skopje, some even below the minimal sanitary needs required to maintain personal hygiene. Citizens report waiting for days to get tested, to receive proper care and to be hospitalised, while the families of the patients report fatigued personnel unable to provide information about the health condition of their loved ones.
Teaching staff were not prepared, nor properly trained (even though the Ministry of Education and Science had 6 months to make the necessary adjustments) to educate school children and teens. As the pandemic progressed, it became obvious that this school year would continue to be held online. The fact that many families do not own adequate tech equipment, nor have access to the Internet, is not something that can be easily ignored nor forgiven.
On the other hand, the barely breathing economy slowly but surely ended up on life support. The Government adopted measures that were supposed to provide subsidies for companies that experienced difficulties under these extraordinary circumstances. However, it has become clear that many of those that most benefitted from the help of the Government were companies tied to officials and/ or their families and friends, while many other company owners took the subsidies for themselves, leaving their hard-working employees without the help they were supposed to receive.
These grave conditions set the framework for the election campaign in July 2020. The ruling party campaigned and won the elections based on their pledge to protect citizens from Covid-19, to create an economy that will create new jobs, to protect employees and their rights, and to create a functioning justice system that will deal with the remnants of previous corruption scandals and punish those that have damaged our democratic values. Furthermore, they promised to continue the EU accession agenda, on the premise that all the open questions with our neighbours have been closed (such as referring to the Friendship Agreement signed with Bulgaria and the change of our name from Republic of Macedonia to Republic of North Macedonia).
Having a clear winner at the parliamentary elections was supposed to end the “interim” government and reinstitute the supervisory role of the Assembly over the decisions of the government. However, the elections revealed that the Macedonian electorate was split down the middle, resulting in a hung Parliament faced with daily difficulties to secure the minimal required quorum for voting and adopting laws.
On the other hand, the Government was hoping to ride the EU Accession wave, but it has faced a cold shoulder from Bulgaria, demanding interventions in historical facts dating before, during and after the World War II that would erase any collective memory of fascist Bulgaria occupying Macedonian territory, torturing and executing people including children, and deporting Jews to death and concentration camps. Once again, our country found itself in front of a closed EU door, paralysing the political discourse.
After Prime Minister Zoran Zaev gave a dishonorable interview for the Bulgarian TV Bgnes, citizens saw nothing but a servile man, who did not take into account the sentiments of the people that voted him into power. The citizens expressed their reactions everyday on social media, while the opposition organized protests. This free-willing behaviour of the Government during its first 100 days was “crowned” with the announced change in the education system that is supposed to merge history lessons with geography and other social sciences. Again, this is seen as an experiment by the current Government without properly doing its homework and failing to explain to its citizens why they are introducing this change.
The Minister of Education and Science answered that she is implementing Finnish educational system reforms; a statement denied by the Finnish authorities. Experts in the fields of education and history reacted that there was no research that favours introducing such changes and that officials failed to provide them to the public. So, the fear of the citizens that our collective memory and our family history are to be simply deleted by this Government is expected and understandable and justified.
Furthermore, the first 100 days of the new Government has reinforced the idea that “all politicians are corrupt”, even while introducing a new Deputy Prime Minister for Fighting Corruption and Crime, Sustainable Development, and Human Resources and entrusting it to the right hand man of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and SDUM’s General Secretary. These “first 100 days” were marked by numerous appointments of directors of agencies and enterprises circumventing the prescribed procedures, a corruption scandal related to the National Agency for European Educational Programs and Mobility, and public procurements done outside procedural norms – all under the blanket of emergency procurements. If this does not speak enough of the “first 100 days”, one can only bring up the bankruptcy of Eurostandard bank that led to the need to privatise the Macedonian Post Office.
All of the above speaks of a Government that is fundamentally disconnected from its citizens and their needs. The “first 100 days” were characterized by a lack of transparency, a lack of inclusion of the opposition in the decision-making process on issues of national importance, and the lack of a dialogue with stakeholders. With the local elections fast approaching Macedonian citizens will once again be unmotivated to get out and vote without a serious and credible offer at the elections. It would not be a bad idea if new parliamentary elections are held simultaneously to change the nation’s trajectory towards the abyss.