April 21, 2019
The pro-Western candidate of the governing Social Democratic Union, Stevo Pendarovski, won the second round of the election on May 5, 2019, against nationalist Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova. Pendarovski garnered 51.7% of the vote while Siljanovska-Davkova received 44.73%. Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova almost tied in the first round in which Pendarovski received 42.8% of the vote and Siljanovska-Davkova a close 42.2%. Blerim Reka, candidate of the ethnic Albanian opposition, came in third with 10.6% of the vote. Pendarovski’s helps the ruling coalition, which hopes to fix a date to start talks for EU accession in June and to become the 30th NATO member state next year.
- The President, as head of state in a unitary parliamentary republic, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and issues government formation mandates after parliamentary elections (or resignation of a cabinet) though it is largely a ceremonial role (the Prime Minister holds most of the power).
- President is elected every 5 years through a two-round election by absolute majority; 2-term limit; turnout threshold to validate runoff results is 40 percent of registered voters.
- Incumbent: Gjorge Ivanov (member of opposition party VMRO-DPMNE); he is term-limited and cannot run again.
- The Prespa (Prespes) Agreement of June 2018 ended decades of dispute between Greece and North Macedonia over the country’s name. North Macedonia recently passed a constitutional amendment to change its name; Ivanov has strongly opposed the name change process.
- Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) : candidate for the governing party (Social Democratic Union), which holds the Prime Minister position (PM Zoran Zaev) with support from several smaller parties; social democratic party, left-leaning; pro-EU (including accession), seeks to secure NATO membership; more open attitude toward integration of ethnic minorities in North Macedonia and less nationalistic than VMRO-DPNE; SDSM has implemented some positive reforms of the security services and anticorruption laws.
- Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova (VMRO-DPMNE) : candidate for one of the two major parties of North Macedonia (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity), which is now in opposition; supports NATO membership but opposes the name change; nationalist, conservative party, has shifted from a pro-European to a pro-Russian and anti-Western platform; it is plagued with accusations of corruption—the former VMRO-DPMNE prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, was sentenced in 2018 on corruption-related charges but fled to Hungary where he was granted asylum.
- Blerim Reka (Independent ): candidate supported by the ethnic Albanian opposition (Alliance for Albanians and BESA); academic by training, former ambassador to the European Union; no ethnic Albanian has ever reached the second round of presidential elections, but Albanian voters are important to achieve victory in the second round; supports the name change, Euro-Atlantic integration, and a multi-ethnic republic; advocates for reforms of the judiciary and stronger rule of law.
Impact on U.S. Interests and Key Issues to Watch
- The Prespa agreement unlocked the door to North Macedonia’s membership in NATO and potentially in the EU, securing its Euro-Atlantic orientation and further stabilizing the Balkan region. The new president’s support for the Agreement will further strengthen North Macedonia’s NATO and (a more distant) EU accession process and will continue to legitimize the country’s reform agenda.
- As the U.S. Senate contemplates North Macedonia’s NATO membership, the presidential election will be sign of democratic consolidation and continued reform agenda—or it may be a signal that the country is not unified in its pursuit of governance reforms and a strong multi-ethnic society that seeks improved regional relations.
- In 2017, the U.S. disbursed over $20 million in aid to North Macedonia, ¾ of which was focused on governance support.
- North Macedonia has demonstrated that it can be a security contributor as a future NATO member by providing forces to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
- The election is the first return to the ballot box since the name change and so is viewed as a second referendum on the Prespa Agreement. Opposition parties have campaigned against the agreement, arguing the deal undermines “Macedonian” identity.
- Russian malign influence in North Macedonia is an issue of concern, as Russia’s alleged support of efforts to suppress voter turnout in the run-up to the September 2018 name change referendum paid off (whether or not it actually provided tangible support) since the turnout threshold was not reached.
- No candidate is polling above 50 percent, leading to a likely runoff in early May 2019.
- Pendavorski (SDSM) is narrowly leading Siljanovska (VMRO-DPNE) in the polls, with 44 percent of voting intentions against 41 percent respectively. Reka is polling at around 15 percent.