North Macedonia presidential election: What next after first round ‘surprise’?

Balkans
Sat, 27 Apr 2024 8:23 GMT
Opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova finished first round with almost double of incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski’s tally.
North Macedonia presidential election: What next after first round ‘surprise’?

North Macedonia’s first round of presidential polls on Wednesday ended with no candidate getting enough votes for an outright win.

That outcome was widely expected and everyone was already talking about a runoff, which will now be held on May 8, along with general elections in the country.

But in other ways, the result was not one many saw coming.

Main opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova finished with around 40%, double the tally of incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski, who was just shy of 20%.

That marked a significant shift in support for Siljanovska Davkova, who is backed by the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE coalition and will become the country’s first female president if she prevails in the second round.

For Pendarovski and the ruling left-wing Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), analysts warn this could be a case of the writing being on the wall.

“I think everybody was surprised. Many surveys projected that Siljanovska Davkova will win the first round, but not with this high of a margin. This was a surprise for everybody, including the opposition,” Marko Trosanovski, a political consultant who heads the Institute for Democracy in Skopje, told Anadolu.

With some 1.8 million eligible voters in the country, turnout stood at just over 49%, well above the first round of the 2019 presidential election.

Trosanovski emphasized that Siljanovska Davkova’s tally was almost double of her main rival Pendarovski, giving her a major edge for the runoff.

“This gives the opposition a very big advantage. It is mainly a psychological effect. The winner will get more votes because people are prone to vote for those that are more likely to be winners in the second round,” he said.

All eyes on path to EU

The hope in North Macedonia is whoever becomes president gets its long-anticipated entry into the European Union, pending for almost two decades.

Both main parties support the idea, but there are certain differences in their approach that could prove critical for the country’s European path.

A major hurdle initially was a dispute with Greece over the country’s name, which led to it officially being changed from Macedonia to North Macedonia in 2018.

That opened the way for North Macedonia to complete its membership to NATO in 2020.

The holdup to its EU membership now is from neighboring Bulgaria, which has blocked its accession process for two years, pressing Skopje to give constitutional recognition to its Bulgarian minority.

Pendarovski, Siljanovska Davkova and their parties are almost on the same page when it comes to North Macedonia joining the EU.

All of them are for the idea, but differ on the way forward.

“There is no dispute over EU membership as a strategic priority for the country, among any relevant political actor in the arena, aside for some marginal parties that are not important,” Trosanovski said.

“So, everybody agrees on the principle that the EU is a strategic objective. But how to do it, that’s where they diverge.”

One of them, Pendarovski and the ruling SDSM says they “will jump to constitutional changes immediately no matter what,” while the other side wants “guarantees because the process of integration can turn into endless torture and negotiation over whether we are Macedonians or whether the languages is authentic or not,” he explained.

“Currently, the problem is that no party has enough votes to pursue these changes in the parliament, because two-thirds majority is needed. So, consensus from all the political actors, and the biggest parties primarily, has to be achieved … At this moment, we are far from this type of consensus,” he added.

The upcoming parliamentary elections could prove critical in this respect, where the performance of smaller parties will influence the formation of the next government – and potentially its policies.

For Trosanovski, the most important need for North Macedonia is “a merit-based enlargement process,” that is not subject to vetoes from other countries.

“The country was vetoed for its name for two decades by Greece. Then there was the French veto, in the very crucial moment after we changed the name, where the enthusiasm of the people and the political elites was high to jump on the EU agenda,” he said.

“Then came the Bulgarian veto on irrational, historical topics of history and identity, where one cannot do much. So, in this regard, it is also difficult to criticize any progressive politician that has to work in this type of environment.”

All of this, he added, has affected public support for EU accession, bringing it down to “65%, which is still quite high … but much lower than the 90% or 80% back in the day.”

He stressed the need for a “process that will not be consensus-based, where only one country can judge whether we progressed on certain chapters in the process.”

“This is the main need of the people, not only in North Macedonia, but in all the Balkans and other new accession candidates,” said Trosanovski.​​​​​​​

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