North Macedonia

Parliamentary Elections

July 15, 2020

Background

  • Unicameral legislature in a parliamentary constitutional republic; members of the Sobranie are elected to a four-year term.
  • Members are elected by party-list proportional representation; 120 seats are elected from six electoral districts in North Macedonia and 3 seats are elected by the North Macedonian diaspora (only if the candidate/party voted for by the diaspora surpasses the minimum number of votes for any candidate in the last election).
  • Incumbent: interim caretaker Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski and his SDSM party, after former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev resigned in January when the European Union suspended opening accession talks.

Contenders

  • We Can coalition (Mozeme) : coalition led by the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), party of Stevo Pendarovski (current president), Zaev, and Spasovski; center-left, social democratic; pro-European (seeks EU membership); for the first time in coalition with the ethnic Albanian BESA movement.
  • Renewal coalition (Obnova) : coalition led by main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE; right-wing, conservative, nationalistic; VMRO-DPMNE has shifted from a pro-European to a pro-Russian and anti-Western platform; plagued with accusations of corruption (former VMRO-DPMNE prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, was forced from office and sentenced in 2018 on corruption-related charges but fled to Hungary where he was granted asylum); seeks to reverse agreement with Greece over name change and agreement with neighboring Bulgaria.
  • Why Not (Pse Jo) : coalition led by the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), main Albanian political party in North Macedonia; center-right, socially conservative; pro-European; seeks the election of an ethnically Albanian Prime Minister in North Macedonia for the first time (25% of the country is ethnically Albanian) and refuses to join with other parties if they don’t agree to the demand.
  • Alliance for Albanians coalition : coalition between two smaller Albanian parties, the Alliance for Albanians (AA) and the Alternative party (Alternativa); both are center-right, pro-EU parties.

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • North Macedonia became the 30th member of NATO in 2019, following the signing of the historic Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2018 that changed the country’s name to North Macedonia. North Macedonia contributes approximately 1% of its GDP toward defense spending and has deployed forces to Afghanistan.
  • North Macedonia signed a landmark friendship treaty with neighboring Bulgaria in 2017, ending long-standing disputes between the two countries and paving the way for Bulgaria to support North Macedonia’s bid for eventual EU membership.
  • North Macedonia has received $786 million in Chinese investments and funds since 2012 for large infrastructure projects; two highway projects triggered allegations of fraud, abuse of power, and breaches to procurement law, leading to the downfall of prime minister Gruevski.

Key Issues to Watch

  • In October 2019 French President Emmanuel Macron unilaterally delayed the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, a decision which the political opposition seized on, leading to Zoran Zaev’s resignation. Although the EU later agreed to open negotiations in March 2020, the October decision and new accession criteria (weighted toward EU members’ political considerations) already damaged Zaev’s credibility.
  • This is the first election since North Macedonia changed its name and constitution, and since its agreements with neighboring Greece and Bulgaria, which provoked a backlash among nationalists and increased support for VMRO-DPMNE. VMRO-DPMNE has promised to reverse some of these changes.
  • Voter turnout is anticipated to be lower due to Covid-19. North Macedonia initially managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus fairly efficiently, but the easing of restrictions and opening of borders has brought a spike in cases and deaths. VMRO-DPMNE has accused the ruling SDSM party of mishandling the pandemic response.
  • Corruption and rule of law are a major focus of this election. SDSM came into power promising to root out corruption and reform the judicial system. However, several of these reforms remain to be fully implemented and high-level convictions by the Special Prosecutorial body are scarce. Unknown sources have released a series of embarrassing reported taped conversations from both SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE leaders, akin to the release of tapes that forced Gruevski’s removal in 2017.
  • Both VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM have promised higher wages and pensions.

Polls

  • A recent poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has the SDSM coalition leading at 24.8%, closely followed by VMRO-DPMNE at 21.2%. The DUI and AA/A coalitions trail behind at 7.2% and 5.7%, respectively.