On Sunday Macedonians will vote in the 6th presidential elections since the independence of the country. They will have to choose among three candidates, all of which are the professors of law.
First on the ballot is Blerim Reka. He introduces himself as an independent candidate but has the support of two opposition parties of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia: Alliance for Albanians and Besa. Mr. Reka is professor of international law and Pro-Rector for Research of the South East European University in Tetovo. He used to be a Macedonian ambassador to the EU in 2006-2010.
When he announced he is running for president he said there are two reasons for that. First, that only with ethnic Macedonian candidates, this multiethnic society risks turning into a mono-ethnic state. Second, that his critic as an intellectual is not enough to change the situation and he has to enter the politics.
Even though his slogan is “One Republic for everyone”, meaning that the country will offer the same rights to every citizen, still there are some reservations among the people who suspect he will subtly support the ethnic Albanians if elected as a president
During the campaign he introduced himself as a moderate politician, but it seems that he was not able to convince ethnic Macedonians and small communities in the country that he will be the president of all citizens. Even though his slogan is “One Republic for everyone”, meaning that the country will offer the same rights to every citizen, still there are some reservations among the people who suspect he will subtly support the ethnic Albanians if elected as a president.
The two other candidates are ethnic Macedonians. Gordana Siljanovska Davkova and Stevo Pendarovski. Ms. Siljanovska has the support of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, while Pendarovski is backed up by governing SDSM and DUI coalition. Both are well known in the Macedonian public. Ms. Siljanovska is a long-standing professor of constitutional law, political systems and local self-government in the State University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje.
She severely criticized the Prespa agreement over the name issue, but she said that if elected, she would fully respect it. Her campaign is focused mainly against the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. She is strictly headlining the rule of law and saying that her main goal will be establishing a state based on the rule of law.
She does not believe that Macedonia will get a date for opening negotiations with the EU this June and accuses the government of failing to ensure the rule of law, to stop nepotism, to create economic environment and to stop the people from leaving the country. At one point she was also against the Ohrid Agreement, which ended the conflict in Macedonia in 2001. Now she is criticizing the law on the Albanian language, which started to be implemented recently and which expands the language rights of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.
Now, during the public debates on several TV channels, she, on one hand, tries to defend her previous attitudes and public statements on the inter-ethnic relations, and on another – to convince the public that she is not a party candidate and if elected, she will be the president of all citizens no matter what their ethnic, religious or political belonging is. However, all public opinion surveys show that she does not enjoy support among ethnic Albanians. She also has a problem with some members of VMRO-DPMNE, because they think that she is not the authentic right-wing politician having in mind that she was a member of Liberal party in the 1990’s and a minister in the cabinet of prime minister Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM) in 1992-1994.
Her rating is high among ethnic Macedonians, but low among ethnic Albanians. That is not a good sign before the voting on Sunday, having in mind the number of ethnic Albanian voters in the country
Siljanovska has never been a member of VMRO-DPMNE, and now she denies that she is in favour of the party’s policies, though the party’s support of the candidate means that he/she agrees with its policy. During the campaign she never openly condemned the ten-year rule of Nikola Gruevski – ex-prime minister who escaped from the country last year and received political asylum in Hungary. Her rating is high among ethnic Macedonians, but low among ethnic Albanians. That is not a good sign before the voting on Sunday, having in mind the number of ethnic Albanian voters in the country.
Number three on the ballot is Stevo Pendarovski. Mr. Pendarovski is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the American University College in Skopje.
He teaches international security, international organizations, introduction to politics and globalization. He used to be spokesman of the ministry of interior and in 2001 was appointed as a national security advisor at the office of President Boris Trajkovski. He retains the same position during the mandate of President Branko Crvenkovski, and at the moment he is national coordinator for the NATO accession, appointed by the present government of the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Mr. Pendarovski was a presidential candidate of SDSM in the previous presidential elections in 2014 when he lost in the second round to the actual president Gjorge Ivanov.
During his campaign he emphasizes the importance of the Prespa Agreement and of the Macedonian EU and NATO integration. He is very supportive of the Law on the Albanian language and trying to get the support of the ethnic Albanians. He is also backed by the governing Albanian coalition partner DUI although no DUI officials have ever appeared on his rallies. The explanation, given by the NGOs monitoring the presidential campaign, is that DUI is running a campaign more likely for parliamentary, than for presidential election.
According to the Macedonian electoral law one candidate can became a president in the first tour if he wins the support of more than 50% of votes of all voters whose names are on the voter list. That is unlikely to happen on Sunday
Mr. Pendarovski is trying to convince the voters that he stands for an equal society, claiming that he has practically shown that many times by his own behaviour. Public opinion surveys show that he has more than 3% advantage over Ms. Siljanovska, who gets 23,5% support of the voters. Mr. Reka in his turn has a stabile support of around 11% of the voters. Therefore, none of them can become president in the first tour of voting.
According to the Macedonian electoral law one candidate can became a president in the first tour if he wins the support of more than 50% of votes of all voters whose names are on the voter list. That is unlikely to happen on Sunday. A lot of people are disappointed with all politicians either from VMRO-DPMNE, or from SDSM, or from DUI. There is a feeling that with the SDSM and DUI governing, nothing has changed for the last two years. The enthusiasm generated after the fall of Gruevski’s government is melting very fast.
The almost certain NATO membership of the county is not seen as a big achievement of the government because the economic standard and life quality remains low. The salaries are still among the lowest in Europe while the life itself is quite expensive. In such circumstances it is a big question whether the people have the motivation to vote on Sunday.
The surveys show that the motivation for voting is bigger among well-educated and well paid citizens. Probably, they are counting that there is no better way for the country than EU and NATO integration -the road that this government is following. But for most of people this does not mean a lot. Fighting the poverty is more important. Many of them have already left the country looking for better life.
Many experts are claiming that not all of those 1.808.131 voters present on the voter list for these elections are actually in the country. They estimate that there are no more than 1.500.000 “real” voters. As for those Macedonian citizens who now live in other countries and are allowed to vote, barely 1.700 will come to the polling stations in the Macedonian Embassies.
Therefore Macedonia will know the name of its 6th president after the second tour, which will take place on the 5th of May. The distance between two leading candidates Gordana Siljanovska and Stevo Pendarovski is very small right now and might remain the same after the voting on Sunday.