Presidential election campaign kicks off in Macedonia

On 13 April presidential elections are scheduled in Macedonia. The two candidates who get the most votes will compete against each other in a second round, scheduled on 27 April. On this day parliamentary elections take place as well. Next to the current president, Gjorge Ivanov, three other candidates are running. The presidential role is largely ceremonial.

The four candidates
Ivanov is the candidate of the main conservative ruling party Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO DPMNE). He is seeking a second five-year term office. His slogan “The State Above All”, is intended to make him look as “a proven defender of the country’s interests.”

Ivanov’s main opponent comes from the main opposition Social Democratic party (SDSM). The slogan of their candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, states: “Macedonia Deserves a President”, which shows his criticism towards the current president. Pendarovski hopes to get the Albanian vote in the second round as current president and VMRO DPMNE candidate Ivanov is not popular amongst Albanians.

Next to the main opposition party, two smaller parties will run at the elections. The Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), elected Iljaz Halimi as their candidate. Halimi, former deputy speaker of parliament,  is the only ethnic Albanian running. Civil Option for Macedonia (GROM), a newly-formed party, has put Zoran Popovski forward as their candidate.

Issues towards the presidential election
Televised debates
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) urged the four candidates on 17 March to take part in a televised debate. Currently, this does not happen before the elections. NDI have talked with the four candidates and received positive reactions. Chris Henshaw, NDI’s resident senior director in Macedonia, hopes all candidates will join. A joint debate is necessary, after last year’s local elections the OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission argued that there were no independent debates and that media coverage was biased. Henshaw hopes that the candidates will join a televised debate and by doing this sent the message that they value independent media.

The opposition has called for face-to face debates over the years, but since 2006, the year that his VMRO DPMNE came to power, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski usually responded that there was no need. His party “presented its achievements to the people every day.” Ivanov agreed with a televised debate during the last presidential elections of 2009, but eventually cancelled.

Electoral roll
SDSM and the main Ethnic Albanian party, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) dispute the accuracy of the electoral roll. According to SDSM 26000 listed voters do not belong on the roll because they are either dead or have fictional residencies in the country. The OSCE, which has monitored the elections in the past, finds the electoral roll unusually large for a country of just over two million people. SDSM thinks these voters are kept on the roll in order to tip elections results in favour of the government. The Macedonian Police Minister, Gordana Jankuloska, denied the accusations: her ministry is clean and plays no role in managing the electoral roll.

Dominant issues in the campaign
According to Sefer Tahiri, communications science professor, several issues will play a dominant role in the elections. First the country’s blocked EU and NATO accession path. Second the long-standing name dispute with Greece. And third human rights like the democratic deficit and media freedom.

DUI brought a new issue in the campaign: the presidential election model. The party, who is in the government with VMRO DPMNE, advocates scrapping direct elections. With the slogan ‘No to a One-sided President”, DUI advocates for a consensus candidate, one that the main Albanian and Macedonian parties in parliament agree on. In the upcoming weeks DUI will inform voters on the unjustness of the current model, one that “marginalizes Albanians”. This group contains of one third of the population of Macedonia. According to DUI spokesman Bajur Osmani “only a wide ethnic and political consensus can ensure the multiethnic character of the presidential position.”

DUI does not put a presidential candidate forward themselves. Last month they failed to persuade their partner in parliament, VMRO DPMNE, of the importance of a consensual candidate. Due to this the party declined to nominate a candidate, in order to boycott the elections. DUI also asked their voters to join the boycott and abstain from voting. Ali Ahmeti, president of DUI, said the party will not recognise any elected president in April if he or she is not a consensual candidate.

The other Albanian party DPA, does not boycott the elections. Although they might at the second round on 27 April, “if it felt that the rival DUI was engaging in undignified trading with VMRO DPMNE.”

Currently the four candidates are busy with their campaign and try to attract as many voters as possible.

By Laura Ritter

Sources: Balkan Insight I, Balkan Insight II, Balkan Insight III, Foundation Max van der Stoel, Balkan Insight IV

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