After the defeat in the national elections on 5 July, the leading opposition party in the Macedonian camp, the social democrats - SDSM, undergoes strife and divisions.

11/08/2006 -  Risto Karajkov

After the defeat in the national elections on 5 July, the leading opposition party in the Macedonian camp, the social democrats - SDSM, undergoes strife and divisions. Responsibility is sought from the leadership for the lost elections - above all from former Prime Minister and party leader Mr. Vlado Buckovski.

"At this point in time the situation in SDSM is tense and up-in-the-air", says in an interview for daily "Utrinski Vesnik" Mr. Nikola Popovski, member of the party presidency and former Minister of Finance. He says SDSM suffers from discord and aggravated internal relations.

Mr. Vlado Buckovski was elected leader of SDSM at the party convention in 2004, after the previous long-standing leader and two-time Prime Minister Mr. Branko Crvenkovski was elected country's President, following the tragic death of his predecessor Mr. Boris Trajkovski. After his election as a President, Mr. Crvenkovski stepped down from the leadership of SDSM, as the role of a party leader is incompatible with the office of the Presidency. While stepping down, he actively supported Mr. Buckovski as his successor in SDSM. The relations between the two have however declined since.

After having become party leader and Prime Minister, Mr. Buckovski fought to secure autonomy from his colleague and former patron, and the Prime Minister's and Presidents views of state affairs started to diverge. Their disagreements were on several occasions very much in the public eye. Now, in the aftermath of the lost elections, the fist voices calling for responsibility to be taken, according to analysts, are coming from people close to the President, Mr. Crvenkovski.

SDSM is to engage in analysis of the causes of the electoral defeat during August, and to hold a party convention by the end of September, where a vote of confidence should be taken, as provided by the party statute.

Mr. Buckovski has been trying to project an image of calm and self-confidence. He said to the media that he doesn't feel that his leadership position is in any way threatened.

"I do not expect a rift or division. SDSM will overcome these anxieties which are typical of any party after loosing elections. I said during the meeting of the party presidency that I would leave if I thought that it was only me who was the problem. But I do not think that my demission would solve the problems. Problems are solved by open debate, and this last meeting of the presidency saw the most open dialogue ever, which is a good precondition, after having continued the discussion, to get the right conclusions.", commented Mr. Buckovski.

What Mr. Buckovski refers to as an "open dialogue", was reported by the media as a direct invitation, by members close to President Crvenkovski, to have him step down. Mr. Igor Ivanovski, currently an advisor to Mr. Crvenkovski, opened the season against Mr. Buckovski with very direct criticism at the meting of the party presidency two weeks ago.

Despite the rhetoric of calm, Mr. Buckovski has engaged in intensive field activity, visiting local party branches, obviously trying to buy support and consolidate his position.

"We should demonstrate that we are strong in defeat as well as in victory", stated Mr. Buckovski from Gostivar last week, after the visit to the local SDSM branch there, "We took this defeat as men. I believe that we will come out of it with a lesson, and after the convention we will be stronger. We need to demonstrate unity and we should not allow the provocation of an internal squabble." said he.

The battle is on and the opponents are grouping. The campaign was essentially launched with a column in the daily press written by Mr. Georgi Spasov, high SDSM official and current Macedonian Ambassador in the UK. He directly attacked Mr. Buckovski accusing him of the poor state the party is in.

"SDSM looks like the old bus from the movie "Ko to tamo peva" (Who is singing over there; cult movie from former Yugoslavia). If he stays in the party, it won't unite, nether strengthen, but further fragment and loose identity", wrote Mr. Spasov.

Mr. Buckovski's fraction retorted in the same way, through the column of a colleague Ambassador, Mr. Ljupco Jordanovski, recently appointed to the US. He refuted Mr. Spasov's claim of Mr. Buckovski's authoritarian leadership in SDSM by saying that he himself didn't do anything while he was a top official in the party, but to the contrary "promoted constraint of democratic practices, and divisions ".

Experts and former foreign ministers regarded the direct involvement of ambassadors in the internal party affairs as ultimately irresponsible and contrary to good diplomatic practice. VMRO-DPMNE, which is underway composing its government (the country is currently in-between governments) called upon the ambassadors to resign. Analysts comment that once the government was operational and a Foreign Minister in office, the ambassadors could be called off.

Former Finance Minister, Mr. Popovski says in his recent interview that difficult times for SDSM are yet to come. In his view, "the battle in SDSM is between two streams; one traditionalist and orthodox, and the other represented by pragmatics who do not identify with the left and have little sense of the programmatic principles of SDSM". Implicitly, Mr. Popovski puts Mr. Buckovski in the second camp.

The name of Mr. Popovski, together with Ms. Radmila Sekerinska, former Vice Prime Minister of Euro-Integration, were in circulation as counter candidates to Mr. Buckovski at the last party convention in 2004. However back then Mr. Buckovski had the support of President Crvenkovski. His election as leader left the other two disillusioned and with somewhat weakened positions. Today, they are back in play for the leader's position.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Buckovski stated that Ms. Sekerinska is the only person that he sees as fully competent to lead SDSM, apart himself, thus identifying her as the only possible opponent at the convention.

"I wouldn't be so sure that there would be only one counter candidate" says Mr. Popovski in his interview.

Mr. Buckovski's supporters in the party say that he will "fight to the end" and that any attempt to depose him of the leadership in a dishonest way, or one not in accordance with the party statute, could end in a disaster.

Either way, the social democrats have tough times ahead.

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