On the 21st of April, nearly 1.8 milion voters in the Republic of North Macedonia will have the opportunity to go to the polls to choose a new president. This year’s elections will be the first in North Macedonia since the Prespa agreement on the country’s name was signed on 17 June 2018 and approved by a majority of voters on 30 September.
This change cools relations with neighbouring Greece, a frosty relationship which had limited North Macedonia’s ability to move toward joining both NATO and the European Union. Following the formal ratification of the name change, North Macedonia’s accession protocol to NATO was signed, a key step on the road to membership. The EU also stated that they would also be willing to begin accession talks. As a result of the name agreement, Greece withdrew its opposition to both moves. Both memberships would be incredibly significant for this country, which gained independence upon the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
The current president, Georje Ivanov (VMRO-EPP) has been a vocal opponent of the name change, refusing to sign legislation enacting it. Ivanov is at the end of his second five-year term as President and so cannot seek re-election. His party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), while supporting accession to NATO, oppose the name change.
North Macedonian presidential elections take place over two rounds. In the first round, a candidate can only win if they receive a vote equal to more than 50% of registered voters. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, then a runoff is held between the two candidates with the most votes. The results of the runoff are valid only if at least 40% of registered voters turn out. The president serves up to two 5-year terms.
National-conservative VMRO selected professor Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova at a party convention in Struga for their presidential candidate. The respected legal expert has written extensively about what she describes as international overreach in the name change treaty, criticising the behaviour of Greece, the EU and the UN, as well as the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM-S&D). She claims the treaty proves that North Macedonia is being submissive to Greece, and instead every person should be able to interpret the meaning of “Macedonian” themselves.
Pro-European Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM-S&D) back Stevo Pendarovski as presidential candidate with the support of coalition partner, Albanian minority advocate party, DUI (*). Pendarovski was SDSM’s candidate in the presidential election in 2014 when he won nearly 325,000 votes in the first round, but lost in the second round to the incumbent Gjorge Ivanov by 30,000 votes. Pendarovski is also supported by the SDSM’s coalition of thirty parties. Pendarovski has significant experience in national security and foreign policy fields, as well as in Macedonian law.
Former North Macedonian Ambassador to the EU Blerim Reka announced that he would run for president as an independent candidate in early March 2019. He is supported by the Alliance for Albanians (AA-*) and the Movement of Besa (BESA-*); both are centre-right parties fighting for Albanian minorities rights in North Macedonia. Reka has stated that his intention is to advocate for ethnic minority rights and protect democracy in North Macedonia by defending the independent judiciary.
Polling by pollster M-Prospekt suggests that Pendarovski narrowly lead Siljanovska-Davkova, with Reka trailing both by around 12 points. However, this polling was performed before the election campaigning began, so the competition is wide open.
Polling for the presidential election will be covered along with election results by Europe Elects. Follow us on social media to keep up with the latest coverage in North Macedonia, and in all elections across Europe.
Euan is the editor-in-chief of Europe Elects, and Michal is a data analyst on the EE team.