For Macedonia, formerly the southernmost republic of Yugoslavia but independent since 1991, this is the fourth successive parliament that has failed to run its full four-year term. The last election was in April 2014, and for most of the time since then the country has been in an extended political crisis. The centre-right government of long-serving prime minister Nikola Gruevski, accused of a range of sins and beset by large-scale public protests, resigned at the beginning of this year following an internationally-brokered agreement for early elections.
First scheduled for 24 April, the election has been postponed twice but has now apparently secured the participation of all parties.
Superficially it will be a straight right-left contest between Gruevski’s party VMRO-DPMNE and the centre-left Social Democratic Union (SDSM), led by Zoran Zaev. But the main issue is whether Gruevski can succeed in tapping into nationalist sentiment – directed against both European Union “interference” and the country’s own ethnic Albanian minority – enough to outweigh the voters’ anger at his government’s corruption and authoritarianism.
Macedonia is a candidate country for EU membership, but Gruevski has evidently cooled on the idea since it became clear that the EU was concerned about the drift away from democracy. The fact that Macedonia lies directly on the main pathway into central Europe for refugees from the Middle East has only improved his ability to thumb his nose at Brussels.
Polls show VMRO-DPMNE with something like 40% of the vote, a few points ahead of SDSM, with most of the rest going to parties representing the Albanian minority. If the Social Democrats can reach agreement with the Albanians, it’s more likely than not that they will be able to put together a majority coalition. But whether a government that excludes the largest party would be viable in such a polarised situation is a matter of some doubt.
While Macedonia still looks like frontierland for Europe, Romania, an EU member since 2007, seems to be moving in the direction of greater political stability. The road, however, has been a bumpy one.
Unlike the parliamentary systems found in Macedonia and most other European countries, Romania’s system is semi-presidential (not unlike France), with a president whose powers are more than just ceremonial. President Klaus Iohannis was elected two years ago with the backing of a centre-right coalition, which meant an uneasy cohabitation with Social Democrat prime minister Victor Ponta, whom he defeated in the presidential election.
It seemed to work reasonably well, but Ponta was the subject of a corruption investigation and eventually resigned in November 2015 after street protests that were triggered by a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest. He was replaced by Dacian Ciolos, an independent technocrat and former EU commissioner, with the support of both major parties.
And in contrast to the confusing party landscape of past years, it looks as if Romania finally has two major parties – the centre-left Social Democrats and centre-right National Liberals – operating on an intelligible ideological basis and together able to dominate the parliament. Polls show them taking two-thirds of the vote between them, with the Social Democrats enjoying a significant lead.
That’s unlikely to be enough for a majority in their own right, although how close they will be could depend on how many other parties clear the five per cent threshold for representation. The liberal ALDE and the Democratic Union of Hungarians are probably the most likely coalition partners for Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea.
Voting is by a nationwide party-list system, with separate seats for overseas Romanians and for ethnic minorities. There is also a Senate elected at the same time and on much the same basis, which therefore tends to mirror the composition of the lower house; it survives despite the passage of a referendum in 2009 to abolish it.