The unprecedented narrow results in the July 15 early general elections have brought Macedonia to uncharted waters. Never before were the two main parties so even and also so far from creating a stable coalition.

Also unprecedented is the inability of the State Electoral Commission to compute the results, which came after an apparent hacking attack and raised eyebrows in the country. But preliminary projections from the SEC are that the SDSM – BESA coalition has won 46 seats, while VMRO-DPMNE has 44. Both parties are far from the 61 seats needed to form a Government.

The traditional kingmaker DUI has 15 seats and could just about help SDSM to form a Government, but also has a growing grudge with the leftist party after a bitter fight for the Albanian vote. The Alliance of Albanians has additional 12 seats.

But the SDSM led coalition is just that – a coalition. It includes the Albanian BESA party whose leader Bilal Kasami said that he will take his estimated five seats in an independent group. This would reduce the SDSM proper share of seats in Parliament below VMRO’s. Both SDSM and VMRO have also relied on other smaller ethnic minority parties, representing Roma, Bosniaks, Serbs, Turks, Vlachs.., who are notoriously unreliable once elected. SDSM has relied on these minority votes to a larger degree than VMRO, but both parties could see their caucus reduced further. VMRO, on the other hand, can hope to develop a relationship with the nationalist, far left Levica party, which won two seats campaigning on strong opposition to the imposed name change. SDSM could try to bring back the 1 member of Parliament for the right wing Albanian DPA party that was traditionally close to VMRO but now sits with SDSM.

Once the Electoral Commission finally comes up with the actual result and seats projection, and the Parliament is convened, if there is no working majority the eldest member of Parliament is elected a temporary Speaker, and President Stevo Pendarovski will be tasked with giving the mandate to the leaders of the winning party or the party that can realistically show it can negotiate to 61 votes and form a Government.

One option, put forward by the pro-SDSM Sloboden Pecat site is that SDSM and BESA try (46 setas) to bring the Alliance (12 seats) and Levica (2) on board, as well as DPA, for a just across the finish line 61 one seats Government. This if President Pendavorski gives the mandate to SDSM and Zaev first. SDSM aligned media are doing their best to insist that their party will not form a coalition with DUI, even though it offers the easiest path forward, to the point of expecting that Levica could be turned to support the name change it campaigned against.

If Zaev fails to form a coalition in 20 days, President Pendarovski would be forced to give the mandate to another party leader, presumably Hristijan Mickoski from VMRO. While visibly dissapointed from the outcome, the opposition party yesterday said that it will begin the process of coalition making. It could approach DUI, the Alliance, Levica and DPA. VMRO and DUI would also need Levica and DPA for a coalition. VMRO could also offer a coalition to both DUI and the Alternative.

It is not inconceivable that Pendarovski at some point has to offer the mandate to DUI leader Ali Ahmeti. DUI campaigned on the promise that it will insist that an ethnic Albanian is elected Prime Minister. This was rejected by both VMRO and SDSM, but after the outcome yesterday, Ahmeti was clearly jubilant and was promoting his demand. SDSM leader Zoran Zaev raised another option – that VMRO and SDSM support each other, in order to cut DUI and their demand for an ethnic Albanian Prime Minister out. Zaev spoke about a minority Government led by one of the two major Macedonian parties and supported by the other, but this could take different forms, a technical Government of officially non-partisan ministers, or a full “grand coalition”. Macedonia had a technical Government supported by all main parties in the early years of its independence, and a grand coalition during the 2001 civil war. Issues such as the need to fight the raging coronavirus epidemic and the upcoming opening of EU accession talks could be evoked to support this proposal, other than defeating Ahmeti’s demand which was declared “blackmail” by both main parties.