By Biljana Lajmanovska
Large political parties dominate the political scene in the Balkans, particularly in parliamentary elections, but smaller parties are increasingly seeing a chance to reach and win voters during local elections.
“Small parties are an alternative for materialising political programmes which are priority to citizens in their daily life. They mostly include infrastructure and utility issues of importance to the local communities which are not very often of interest to larger parties,” Mensur Alic, a council member from the Tuzla Alternative party, told SETimes.
Tuzla Alternative is a new political party in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which won three council seats in the October 7th local elections.
The smaller parties in Macedonia are campaigning for the March 2013 local election, and view it as an opportunity to come out from the shadow of the larger parties and political blocs.
Some, which have so far been part of coalitions, want for the first time to run independently.
“We are thinking of offering our own list for council members, but we are still analysing that option,” Ljiljana Popovska, leader of the Democratic Renewal of Macedonia party, which focuses on environmental issues and is partner to the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, told SETimes.
Many voters said issues concerning urban living as well as the environment are most important to them, and consequently they will not vote based on party affiliation in the local elections.
“The candidate to gain my vote should be a person I know, one who will get engaged to improve living conditions in our community. We need better roads, parks and more greenery,” Jasna Ignjatova, a resident of the Kisela Voda municipality in Skopje, told SETimes.
“I always vote for a candidate that I know and trust the most, regardless of political party [in the local elections]. In parliamentary elections, I vote based on a political party preference because we vote for party lists of candidates,” Spiro Bogdanovski of the Aerodrom municipality in Skopje told SETimes.
Leaders of smaller parties said participating independently in the local elections is crucial for strengthening the smaller parties; it will provide exposure and a greater influence in the parliamentary elections, and will save some of the ever-growing election costs.
“Not all parties begin the election race under equal conditions. Money is key to having a [successful] campaign, media coverage, the necessary people,” Pavle Trajanov, leader of the Democratic Union, which won one parliamentary seat, told SETimes.
“Elections have become really expensive. That is why we seek legal changes that will increase funds for parties for their electoral representation. This will increase our independence,” Popovska said.
“At the local election, the chances for success are equal while the expenses are smaller … as opposed to parliamentary elections when it is almost impossible for us to win a seat,” Trajanov added.
Analysts said that independent, strong parties are a positive step for a country to become more democratic.
“Success in local elections really depends on the candidates themselves. If smaller parties have good candidates, they can hope for success. By contrast, even the best candidate in parliamentary elections can not win without the support of a bigger political party,” Vladimir Bozinovski, analyst at the Institute for Political Research, told SETimes.
Others disagree, arguing the smaller parties have themselves to blame for not gaining greater influence.
“They do not persevere in their policies and programmes, and joining larger parties hurts and prevents them from establishing themselves as a third political option in addition to the opposition,” said Ivica Bocevski, a former Liberal Democratic Party member, who entered Macedonia’s opposition bloc.