Around 11 pm, on Sunday, December 11, 2016, the Republic of Macedonia discovered that its two main parties had finished neck and neck in early parliamentary elections. Supporters of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, leader of the incumbent Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), and Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), gathered just feet away from one another in the center of Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, to celebrate their supposed victories. It was unclear which party, if any, would be able to form a government.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE secured 51 of the 120 total seats, two more than Zaev’s SDSM. Just as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was voted into office despite (or because of) his threats to jail his political adversary, his payment of $25 million to settle a fraud lawsuit, and his bragging about nonconsensual sex on tape, so Gruevski was able to win a plurality of votes despite being mired in scandals, protests, and charges of fraud. Trump’s election has sent shock waves around the world, triggering a chaotic search for answers to how he was elected, what his policies will be, and how the opposition can regain its footing. Short of psychic powers, the best way to analyze the possibilities of a Trump presidency is through an examination of comparable leaders. And Macedonia’s Gruevski may prove an instructive example.
Like the U.S. elections, the Macedonian vote unleashed deep tensions. Even before the elections, allegations of Gruevski’s criminal actions unfolded like a House of Cards episode. In January 2015, Gruevski declared publicly that Zaev was preparing a coup and ordered his passport seized. Shortly thereafter, Zaev started releasing tape recordings in which members of the government could be heard discussing illegal activities. Gruevski and the VMRO-DPMNE inner circle allegedly engineered a massive wiretapping program that kept tabs on one percent of the population (roughly 20,000 citizens), comprising members of the opposition, diplomats, journalists, and businessmen. Now public, these recordings unveil
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