Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Is it and to what extent is quality democracy possible in a country with a multi-ethnic society, such as North Macedonia?

Author: Xhelal Neziri

Although since 2009 it has received the recommendation from the European Commission (EC) to start negotiations for membership in the European Union (EU), the Republic of North Macedonia is still not considered a consolidated democracy. Most reports place it in the group of “hybrid regimes”, away from the group of “functional democracies” or “semi-functional democracies”. The main reason for this ranking is the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media. This is stated in the latest report on the rule of law by the European Commission.

But the problem for this poor ranking, which is on the threshold of “authoritarian regimes”, is not only related to the above two dimensions. It is about the incomplete fulfillment of the five prerequisites for a functional democracy, which theorists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan emphasize, which are: free civil society, independent political society, functional economic society, rule of law and efficient state administration.

It is and to what extent is quality democracy possible in a country with a multi-ethnic society, such as North Macedonia?

To answer the question, we must first list the eight different dimensions of democratic quality of theorists Larry Daymond and Leonardo Morlino. Rule of law, participation, competition, vertical and horizontal accountability, according to them, are important for content, but are mainly procedural, referring mostly to rules and practices. They say that respect for civil and political liberties and the progressive implementation of greater political, social and economic equality is essential. The dimension of responsibility, on the other hand, is related to the basis for measuring how public policies (laws, institutions and expenditures) respond to the demands of legitimate citizens through the political process.

According to the authors, these different dimensions interact closely and reinforce each other, eventually converging into one system. They say that the connections between the various elements of democracy are so dense, interactive and overlapping that it is sometimes difficult to know where one dimension ends and another begins.

In this text I will try to evaluate all these eight dimensions that define democracy in North Macedonia.

  1. Rule of law. The rule of law means that all citizens are equal before the law. The law must be applied fairly and consistently to all by an independent judiciary. The rule of law is the weakest axis of the system in the Republic of North Macedonia. The dysfunction, partisanship and ethnicization of the judiciary is a source of obstacles and complications in almost all other dimensions. This partisanship is a legacy of the previous system, when the judiciary was under the control of the party-state, where most power was concentrated. Although with the democratic transition in 1991, the country formally and legally enabled the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial, still the executive power remained at the center of power.
  2. Participation. This dimension implies the obligation of every democratic state to provide all its citizens with increased formal rights of political participation. Through this participation, citizens influence the decision-making process: they vote, organize, gather, protest and lobby for their interests. In this dimension the country is in better condition. In general, the right of citizens to participate in the political activities of political and civil society is guaranteed and enabled. And here the problem is the parties, which remain insufficiently democratized and closed to the participation of new persons or groups.
  3. Competitiveness. Daymond and Morlino say that to be a genuine democracy, the political system must have regular, free and fair electoral competition between different political parties. The country’s electoral model – proportional with six constituencies – allows for competition and geographic representation of all citizens, but still favors the largest coalitions or parties. D’Hont’s formula, which is used for the distribution of mandates during the counting of votes, makes it impossible for new and smaller parties to enter Parliament. The Electoral Code, with recent amendments, allows for a largely fair representation in the media, which is also obliged to provide adequate space for all competitors for power.
  4. Vertical accountability. Accountability is the obligation of elected political leaders to answer for their policy decisions when questioned by voters or constitutional bodies, Daymond and Morlino say. Andreas Schedler, on the other hand, says that accountability has three main characteristics: information, justification and punishment (or compensation). This type of accountability is called vertical because it goes from the bottom (citizens) to the top (leaders). Vertical accountability also requires a quality parliamentary composition, with deputies who are first and foremost representatives of the citizens, and then of the political parties. Active MPs can play a mediating role in the accountability between the citizens from whom they are elected and the officials elected by the Parliament. The same can be said about the media. But the Parliament is far from what it should be, and so are the media. The ruling parties remain the main centers of power, undermining this qualitative dimension of democracy.
  5. Horizontal responsibility. Because one government official or institution answers to another at roughly the same level, this is called horizontal accountability. As examples of institutions with horizontal responsibility, they mention the parliamentary opposition, special investigative commissions created by the legislature, the courts, audit agencies, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Central Bank, the independent electoral administration, the Ombudsman or various other bodies, whose mission is to carry out detailed supervision and limit the power of those who govern. As with the judicial system, in this case horizontal accountability does not fully function because of too much power concentrated in the executive branch. With the exception of the opposition, other institutions that have powers for supervision and control give poor results that very rarely end with punishment for the holder of the duty who acted illegally or improperly during the execution of the same.
  6. Freedom. According to Daymond and Morlino, freedom consists of three types of rights: political, civil and social (or socio-economic). And this dimension is intertwined with others and is determined by the quality of democracy as a whole. Parties with a lack of internal democracy, partially free media and an ineffective judicial system create an unfavorable environment for the exercise of the above three rights that constitute freedom.
  7. Equality. The word democracy itself, according to Daymond and Morlino, usually symbolizes the formal political and legal equality of all citizens. They say that a good democracy ensures that the citizen and the group have the same rights, the same legal protection, and quick access to justice and power. Discrimination in the country is still present in almost every form – gender, regional, ethnic, party etc. In a survey of the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, conducted in 2011, the majority of citizens (53.3%) believe that there is discrimination in North Macedonia, and ethnic discrimination is the second most widespread, after political discrimination.
  8. Responsiveness is measured by the extent to which citizens will be satisfied with the performance of democracy, which will legitimize it. The authors say that it is the ability of institutions and authorities to respond positively to any legitimate request or need of citizens. The continuous decline of trust in democracy in North Macedonia, shown in the latest IRI survey, is an indication that this system does not address all the needs and demands of the citizens. With an unemployment rate of about 15%, with an average net salary of about 30 thousand denars, with a high level of corruption and generally with a low quality of life, democracy in this country does not give the expected results.

This means that the Republic of North Macedonia must work hard to improve the quality of democracy. But it seems that the state is not able to implement the necessary reforms on its own. Many countries from Central and Eastern Europe managed to successfully complete their transitions only through the EU integration process. The country started negotiations towards the end of 2022, although the recommendation to open negotiations for membership has been there since 2009. The blockade by the member states of the Union has lasted for 12 years. First Greece, then France for the methodology and finally Bulgaria used the right of veto in the European institutions. Whether the year 2023 will also be lost in the debates about the history of the Balkans remains to be seen.

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