Macedonia: The Curse of ‘Bipartisanship’

Photo by manarh, CC Licensed.

Veteran Macedonian bloggers express the widely held opinion among their compatriots, who are not sympathizers of political parties, about feeling hostage to a system without independent alternatives.

Often these sentiments are expressed as versions of the Buridan's ass paradox, or in the words of Simpsons character Bart: “You are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don't.”

Blogger and political analyst Vuna used a joke about Paul the Octopus to address the limited perceptions. He wrote [MKD]:

A few days ago I heard this joke about the everyday frustrations of living in Macedonia:

“Paul was given to choose between VMRO and SDS… and at the end he starved.”

However, this “shenanigan” is a major failure. I liked it at first, but when I thought about it, I came up with the following.

The story about Paul's “predictions” is that he actually chooses a mussel from one of the two containers offered. He chooses the clams, of course, to feed. In our case he does not select the VMRO nor the SDS mussel and dies of starvation.

The explanation why Paul dies of starvation is that he is a principled person or stupid enough not to choose either VMRO or SDS because they are “the same shit” even though the mussels are placed only in the containers. If he wants to survive he must pick one of the parties.

The sad thing is that the story does not include a mussel outside of the boxes. The subconscious part of the joke is honest enough: Paul wants to eat to survive, and he is “condemned” to choose one of the options – VMRO or SDS. In this way the “joke” serves the cowardice of Macedonian citizens, who see no choice beyond the political parties. There is no readiness to imagine a mussel outside of the boxes.

Volan, described [MKD] his view on the situation in Macedonia in more prosaic form:

The struggle between the Position and the Opposition in our political arena resembles court intrigue, a theater show where actors change roles, and often a circus. The term political arena is no accident, arenas historically come from the Roman period, when combat to death was used for entertainment for the rulers and the powerful people around them. The decision who will live or die often depended on the position of the ruler's thumb. A combat with the main purpose to obtain better position to eat up [the resources – presented as a banana]… There was a time when people watched the sessions of the Assembly on TV for fun.

One has to wonder about what games our main actors in the Position-Opposition duo play. While one party is in power they forget that at the next elections they will be unseated and they enact laws which exclude rights to the Opposition. Then they feel the revenge. For instance, while the Government strengthens the role of the Police, they forget that the laws they make will be used against them when they leave power.

However, there are issues where both camps are in concord. The main players in Position and Opposition have an unwritten rule – they jointly fight against appearance of a third camp, and new political subjects. They enacted laws to limit the opportunities for others to join the club by setting ever increasing thresholds to form new parties which can compete with them for seats at state and local level, in the Assembly and the municipal councils.

Another common feature is lowering the turnout threshold – in order to have successful elections with less voter participation. This is their solution for ignoring the voice of the citizens who by refusing to vote send a message of dissatisfaction to both sides about the way the country is run. In practice this results with absolute rule based on only 25-30% support from the voters. Regardless, such rule is absolute and legal.

In addition, the theater or circus of the Position and the Opposition also has another very important player – the so-called foreign or international factor, i.e. the representatives of the great world powers and groups… No wonder politicians often go to kiss their hands. Without their support they would almost certainly loose at the next elections, and often the local politicians are bound to obey in exchange for silence about compromising information. Therefore we often witness sudden removals of powerful from the political life, such as Georgievski in Macedonia, Sanader in Croatia, and if you will – Karadžić in Bosnia… These contracts are never signed on paper, but most often they are respected.

The role of our nouveau riche oligarchy is still young and not strong, but they are present in the political life. Criminal structures are also behind the scenes of politics – everybody knows about them but those who rule never mess with them. The third branch of Government, the Courts, remain under influence of those who put the judges in their seats. The journalists are in a crevice between their ethics and dependency on media owners who are influential political players.

Possibly a reason for this lock-in can be found in the fact that most of the voters who are not part of the clientship hierarchies of the political parties have always voted to punish ruling politicians. This situation is similar to the one in the U.S.A., as described by Jack Gamble in his post “Why The Third Party Will Never Happen” (emphasis added):

Did you vote for Kerry or against Bush? Did you vote for McCain or against Obama? While it’s obvious that Obama inspired a new breed of voters who never took part in the process, the majority of McCain supporters were not necessarily fans of McCain. They just feared Obama. Much the same way Kerry supporters were not impressed with the Senators flip-flopping and Gore-like monotone diatribe. They just hated Dubya. With most people voting against and few people voting for, the two party system will always prevail. People will vote for the guy most likely to beat the guy they hate and not vote for the candidate who most resembles their views. The Democrats simply swallowed the Green and Libertarian parties even if most self-proclaimed “independents” never saw it coming.

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