The debate whether Macedonia needs a third option has been going on for some time, inspired by different motives and on different grounds. Although the reasonable answer would be yes, because every new political offer, especially if it is of quality, raises the general level of discourse and political product, enhances competition and raises standards, yet such an option has not managed to stay on the political scene in the long run. Is it just a conspiracy of the two political parties whose basic interest is to remain the only options, is it the lack of good offers, is it a mix of historical circumstances? Or is there another reason why these two parties still dominate the Macedonian political market?
The political market of the Macedonian election offer has been, with few exceptions, relatively stagnant, static, for a long time. As in many transition countries, we began with the old transformed Communists, and the new, harder to transform, nationalists. Meanwhile the Communists turned into Social Democrats, the Nationalists became authoritarian populists, but the cores remained. There was no new option with an autochthonous core, which would mean substantial refreshment of the political scene.
One of the reasons for this political milieu is the electoral model. The original election model in Macedonia was a pure majority model, which provided stable governments, but at the outset it threw out two major political cores in the Macedonian bloc due to the nature of the model itself. Thus, in advance, political power was concentrated in two major blocks. To date, even though we now have a proportional model, electoral legislation still favors the larger parties, forcing the smaller ones (fearing losing votes in the redistribution of MPs) to form pre-election coalitions with the larger parties, and so, in fact, to melt into two large blocks once again. Thus, the electoral model directly influences the bi-partisanship of the political scene.
The second reason is the state’s ever-present political crisis and the direction in which society is moving. Despite the theoretical outburst of disappointment by the electorate, and the critical public’s persistent mantra that a third option or offer is needed, the election results do not fully support that theory. The electorate’s dissatisfaction does not flow directly to abstinence, largely due to the fact that there are two major variables in force: the first is dissatisfaction and the need for a new offer, but the second, so far stronger, is the persistent bipolar option: major decisions on the direction of the state make political choices focused on big, strategic topics: with or without the EU and NATO, with or against inter-ethnic cohabitation, and so on.
Such big decisions leave room only for exclusive elections, for bipolar political blocs, they are “centrifugal” by nature, deterring voters from a third option, or a political center.
The third reason is that, at least for the time being, the third options in Macedonia are emerging as a reactive and politically opportunistic phenomenon, rather than as a proactive, autochthonous, sovereign burst of new offerings. The Democratic Alternative, NSDP, and the many small satellites around VMRO-DPMNE, always show up before elections, or immediately after them, often as a product or political predation of an election opportunity, or as a result of in-party divorce. Such initiatives, which are basically a pragmatic rather than ideological model of forming a new offer, then merge too easily into one of the big blocks. In the end, so are world experiences: most of the region’s “third” initiatives end up in disrepair, either by melting into a larger bloc or falling into political oblivion.
Finally, international experiences are mixed in this regard as well. The persistent burst of anti-establishment sentiment – that is, the saturation of current political offerings, for example in the United States and Great Britain, have resulted, instead of rising strong new options, with a revision of the approach of one of the major parties. So populists came into play, who served as an infusion of new energy, or as a symbol of purification with the old way of political elitism, but in the existing right-wing parties. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are examples of such a phenomenon. Instead of getting, for example, the Liberal Democrats in the UK, which would mean breaking up with the old duopoly, however, the saturation of the current political discourse has manifested itself in support of Johnson – a real political outsider.
This does not mean that the political offer is sufficient or that societies have no need or capacity for a third option. On the contrary, all the signals from the electorate are an indication that in many countries, Macedonia in particular, there are textbook preconditions for a new offer. However, the challenges remain – any new offer, if it is a product of political pragmatism rather than an ideological milestone, if it is not backed up by a revision of the electoral model, or if it does not take the challenges of the environment and past experiences into account, will be at serious risk. One should also bear in mind that the electorate does not have unlimited energy for attempts: if such an initiative fails on several occasions, we will be re-convicted of the existing political oligarchy in the long run.
Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik