The early general elections in Macedonia were seen as a chance to put a long, protracted political crisis behind. Instead they opened a new chapter of uncertainty in an already fragile and deeply divided country.
Macedonia's ruling national conservatives VMRO-DPMNE and the opposition Social Democrats, both told their supporters to celebrate a big election victory on Sunday night, but Monday morning brought a much more sober mood.
Macedonian citizens voted in almost historic numbers on Election Day, with the projected turnout nearing 70 percent. Both the ruling parties and the opposition told their followers during the election campaign that this was a battle for life or death.
The early elections were supposed to put an end to nearly two years of deep political crisis which not only threatened Macedonia's ambitions of joining NATO and the European Union (EU), but also its very existence - 25 years after this small Balkan nation proclaimed independence from former Yugoslavia.
The crisis was sparked by the revelation of a huge wiretapping scandal in February last year. Allegedly, the government spied on more than 20 thousand people in the country including politicians, judges, businessmen and journalists.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his party VMRO-DPMNE, during 10 years in power, created a semi-authoritarian illiberal system that now completely controls the administration, judiciary and the media. There is rampant corruption and complete lack of responsibility and transparency.
Even the European Commission, in its latest report, called Macedonia a "captured state."
Gruevski managed to mobilize his usual supporters - an army of public administration employees, farmers, nationalists and socially vulnerable groups - and secured victory once more, although finding a partner to form a parliamentary majority might prove difficult.
The Social Democrats and their leader Zoran Zaev replied by gathering support from the ethnic Albanian community- the largest minority in the country accounting for around 25 percent of the population. In the end, they lost by the tiniest of margins - 1.5 percent at the national level. As a result, the traditional ethnic Albanian parties lost almost 10 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament.
The new parliament will reflect the deep political and ethnic divide in Macedonia, with two large ethnic Macedonian parties and four smaller groups of representatives of the Albanian community, and no clear majority.
Gruevski and his nationalists can theoretically form a new government with their old partners from the Albanian block- the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) headed by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti. It might prove a dangerous and unstable marriage though: Ahmeti was long seen as a hero in the Albanian community and his party won every election since he exchanged his military fatigues for a business suit in 2002. These elections put an end to his dominance after a record number of Albanians decided to vote for an ethnic Macedonian political party. It was a historic turnaround only 15 years after Ahmeti led an armed insurgency in 2001 that brought more constitutional rights to ethnic Albanians.
Another Gruevski-Ahmeti coalition would almost certainly destabilize the country further and bring ethnic issues to the fore again.
The other possibility would be a coalition of the Social Democrats with the whole block of ethnic Albanian parties in the parliament. Such a governing coalition might be willing to tackle the corrupt system left behind by Gruevski and his party, but it could face a strong nationalist backlash from VMRO-DPMNE.
With a new refugee crisis just around the corner, many EU countries were hoping that the elections in Macedonia would bring some stability in this part of Europe, considered crucial for stopping the potential influx. The majority of Macedonians were also tired of the seemingly unending political and economical crisis.
In the end, not only did the elections not put the crisis to bed, but they also complicated it further.
The Macedonian patient is very sick and needs urgent help and attention from the EU and the international community. Otherwise, the crisis might easily endanger not only the existence of the country, but the stability of the whole region as well.