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Macedonia – First round of presidential elections

Macedonia held a presidential election on 13 April. Apart from the incumbent, Gjorge Ivanov, three other candidates from the opposition parties contested the election. The State Election Commission reports a turnout of 48.84% and the following final results:

  • Gjorge Ivanov, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), 449,068 votes, 51.67%
  • Stevo Pendarovski, Social Democratic Party (SDSM), 326,133 votes, 37.52 %
  • Ilijaz Halimi, Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), 38,966 votes, 4.48%
  • Zoran Popovski, Civil Option for Macedonia (GROM), 31,366 votes, 3.61%

Although the incumbent president won an absolute majority of the votes cast, a run-off will be organized on 27 April. According to article 81 of the 1991 constitution, a candidate needs the support of a majority of the eligible voters in order to win the contest. Therefore, a second presidential round is needed this time because fewer than 50% of the registered electorate turned out to vote. However, the participation threshold required for the validity of the second presidential round was reduced to 40% by a constitutional amendment passed in 2008.

Three factors may explain the low electoral turnout. First, election reports have indicated that the Albanian minority, which makes up about 25% of Macedonia’s population, did not turn out to vote. The boycott was recommended by the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the junior party in the ruling coalition led by the right-wing populist VMRO-DPMNE party. DUI opposed VMRO-DPMNE party’s decision to endorse President Ivanov for a second presidential mandate and demanded that a more “consensual” candidacy, acceptable to both Albanian and Macedonian voters, be put forward. The disagreement between the two coalition partners over a common presidential candidate sparked a political crisis that resulted in the calling of an early general election. The snap parliamentary election will coincide with the presidential run-off on 27 April.

Second, according to the OSCE/ODIHR mission to Skopje, the electoral campaign lacked a proper level of political analysis and independent reporting. Due to the ruling party’s direct control over the media, the incumbent president enjoyed a significant advantage in resources and paid advertising in comparison to the opposition candidates. The heavy involvement of the VMRO-DPMNE party in the presidential campaign prevented the emergence of a real political debate.

Third, the Macedonian presidency is seen as a largely ceremonial office. However, the president is granted several important powers. For example, he has the right to request the assembly to re-examine any bill once before signing it into law (art. 70) and he can also address the parliament on issues within his competency at least once a year (art. 85).  However, President Ivanov has never used his power to challenge controversial laws and his political speeches have always echoed the positions taken by the prime minister. His role in international affairs has also been limited, although the constitution grants him significant powers in this area. For example, the head of state is the commander of the armed forces (art. 79), presides over the country’s Security Council and appoints three members of this body (art. 86). Overall, Gjorge Ivanov has been characterised as a president in the prime minister’s shadow.

Gjorge Ivanov’s profile contrasts with that of his challenger in the run-off, Stevo Pendarovski. Although a newcomer in the Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party, Pendarovski has extensive political experience, having served as a key advisor under two former presidents. An outspoken critic of the incumbent government, Pendarovski has vowed to restore the importance of the presidential office and to bring Macedonia closer to the EU and NATO.

President Ivanov looks set to win the run-off. His chances are boosted by the advantage that the VMRO-DPMNE party has in the general election as well as by the abstention of the Albanian community. Moreover, the coincidence of parliamentary and presidential elections on 27 April minimizes the risk that the election is invalidated due to low electoral turnout.