Presidential elections in North Macedonia: A test for the ruling coalition

Skopje, Macedonia; Photo: WikiComons/Raso mk

Citizens of North Macedonia will go to the polls on Sunday to elect the President for their country for the sixth time since independence and the first since the new name was adopted. The tight race is widely seen as a challenge to the government of Zoran Zaev, the main accomplishment of which remains the signing of Prespa Agreement with Greece and signing of the accession protocol with NATO.

The Agreement, which was implemented by the Parliament through constitutional amendments in January, has found a prominent place in the campaign – opposition VMRO-DPMNE candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova is planing to keep its future “open”.

“I will form an international group of experts that will author a report on violations of national and international law and will act according to the findings”, stated Siljanovska Davkova, a professor of constitutional law, in an interview for Serbian daily Politika.

However, both she and Hristijan Mickoski, VMRO-DPMNE’s leader, have never directly promised to scrap the Prespa Agreement, Balkan Insight reminds.

On the other hand, Stevo Pendarovski, joint candidate of the ruling coalition of SDSM and DUI, as well as series of smaller political organisations, supports the Agreement, assessing that it has opened the doors towards EU and NATO.

“Euro-Atlantic integrations are the quickest way for the country to stand on its feet and finally become a part of the European family, which is not only secure, but also wealthy”, he stated.

Despite the fact that she also supports integration into EU and NATO, Siljanovska Davkova believes the government is not delivering on this front.

“I am naturally a part of opposition, because the current government is leading the country away from both the European integrations and from democracy”, she says, adding that North Macedonia is facing a form of a captured state – “Zaevism”.

Pendarovski, who was also interviewed by Politika, disagrees.

“Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has promoted  the idea of national unity but, unfortunately, there is still no answer from VMRO-DPMNE, which is acting the same way it did under Gruevski”, he says, referring to the former Prime Minister who fled to Hungary last year to avoid prison sentence.

Constitution of North Macedonia gives more power to the Prime Minister than to the President, but the latter can still influence the policy making process, which was proven by the current President Gjorge Ivanov, who repeatedly refused to sign into law several important legal acts, including the one giving the official status to the Albanian language. On that occasion, he claimed that the law is “biased” towards one language.

This underlines the contrast between Ivanov and Pendarovski, who faced each other in the 2014 presidential race. This time the candidate of the ruling coalition, Pendarovski is supported by both major ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties, which is a case without precedent.

According to the survey conducted by Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis from Skopje, 20% of ethnic Albanian voters are intending to vote for Pendarovski (only 0,4% plan to support Siljanovska Davkova), underlying his status as a “multi-ethnic” candidate.

Majority of Albanian votes were nevertheless going to go to Blerim Reka, third and final candidate in the race, supported by the Albanian opposition parties Besa and Alliance for Albanians, who focused his campaign on corruption and organised crime, Radio Free Europe reports.

The race will be tight and indecisive, surveys show. Both Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis and Rating Agency give an edge, though not a large one, to Pendarovski over Siljanovska Davkova. Reka is expected to win significantly smaller percentage of the votes.

Neither of the leading candidates is expected to win an outright majority of 50%, which means that the second round of the vote on 4 May will probably be necessary – if the elections are successful at all.

As Balkan Insight reminds, low turnout, which marked the Prespa Agreement referendum, has come back to haunt Macedonia’s electoral process. With a threshold for successful elections being 40%, all sides are urging the voters to get out and vote. Nobody seems to think that another political deadlock will be beneficial for the country, whichever way the vote goes.