Macedonian presidential election heads to second round

By bne IntelliNews April 14, 2014

Clare Nuttall in Bucharest -

Macedonia’s presidential elections will go to a second round after a low turnout saw no candidate pass the threshold required to secure a first round victory on April 13. However, incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov has forecast a “double victory” for himself and the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party when the second round of voting takes place alongside parliamentary elections on April 27. 

Ivanov took 52.56% of the vote, according to preliminary results, but that represented just 25.19% of the total electorate, according to the State Election Commission. With turnout at 48.85%, he failed to pass the threshold of 50% of Macedonia’s 1.7 million registered voters. 

His main rival, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia's (SDSM) Stevo Pendarovski took 37.57% of votes cast. Neither of the other two candidates managed to make it over 5%. The results suggest Ivanov is the most likely winner of the second round. 

More importantly, since Macedonia’s president is a largely ceremonial post, they suggests public support is still behind the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). The party’s nominee for president was the most popular candidate in almost all constituencies across the country, suggesting VMRO-DPMNE is in a strong position. 

Speaking after preliminary results were announced on April 13, Ivanov forecast a “double victory” on April 27. “We are all winners and Macedonia is the biggest winner,” Ivanov told supporters, MIA news agency reported. “I will continue with all efforts and promise that I will continue to be president for all citizens. No distinction should be drawn, but unity should be encouraged in all areas.”

Opponent Pendarovski insisted to supporters that “the fight is not over” with a second round of voting coming up. Both Ivanov and Pendarovski are hoping that their presidential campaigns and their parties will gain supporters in the next two weeks. 

Changing partner?

Snap parliamentary elections were called on March 6, when VMRO-DPMNE’s junior coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), refused to back Ivanov for the presidency. The DUI argued that Ivanov was acceptable neither to  ethnic Macedonians nor Albanians, the country’s largest ethnic minority, and complained VMRO-DPMNE had ignored its calls to pick a “consensual” candidate. The DUI has boycotted the race, refusing to put forward its own candidate or endorse any of the other candidates.

To resolve the issue, the two parties agreed to bring forward the parliamentary election, formerly due to take place in 2015. VMRO-DPMNE, the largest party represented in the current parliament, hopes to increase its majority on April 27 and hold onto power - either alone or alongside another coalition partner. This would mean Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, would most likely hold onto his position. 

The party has a high level of support among ethnic Macedonians, especially those in rural areas. Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democratic Party has its main support base in Skopje and other major towns. The main parties representing Macedonia’s Albanian minority are also divided, with the DUI joining VMRO-DPMNE in government, while the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) is in opposition. 

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) says in a March 31 report that the election campaign had been “marked by ethnically divisive rhetoric,” although it also reported “allegations of corruption and personal attacks are being exchanged between the two main ethnic Macedonian parties ... and between the two main ethnic Albanian parties.”

Even before the high showing for Ivanov on Sunday, polls showed that VMRO-DPMNE is likely to remain the largest party in parliament, though it may fall just short of a majority in the 123 seat parliament.  

The ongoing debate over the country’s name has been one of the main issues during the electoral campaign, with Ivanov positioning himself as the defender of Macedonia's identity. Meanwhile, Pendarovski has called for a cross-party consensus on the name, to be followed by negotiations with Greece. Athens opposes the use of the name “Macedonia,” which it argues could lead to claims on a Greek province with the same name. Continuing conflict with Greece has hindered Macedonia’s progress towards membership of the EU and NATO. 

Stemming the outflow

More important for many Macedonians is reviving the economy and reducing unemployment, which currently stands at around 30%. With youth unemployment as high as 54%, a high level of emigration blights the country, with over 10% of the population leaving between 1998 and 2011, according to Eurostat. The real figure is likely to be higher since this only includes Macedonians who have left legally. 

Gruevski claims that during the last eight years he has successfully cut unemployment from 39%, as well as attracting foreign investment. However, Pendarovski has highlighted the fact that Macedonia remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, flagging up a lack of economic reform. 

In its 2013 Transition Report, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) points to “tentative signs” of recovery in 2013, after GDP contracted by 0.3% the previous year. This has been driven party by government investment programmes. Macedonia does, however, remain dependent on the performance of countries in the Eurozone. 

Other important issues to be tackled by the next government include the planned privatisation of four large state-owned companies - chemicals company Ohis, electrical engineering company EMO Ohrid, tobacco producer Tutunski Kombinat AD Prilep, and defence company 11 Oktomvri Eurokompozit. According to the EBRD, low investor interest led to the repeated failure to sell them off. 

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