North Macedonia’s opposition VMRO-DPMNE candidate takes strong lead in first round of presidential election

North Macedonia’s opposition VMRO-DPMNE candidate takes strong lead in first round of presidential election
Incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski trailed far behind VMRO-DPMNE's Gordana Siljanovska Davkova as voters punish the ruling SDSM party. / bne IntelliNews
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 25, 2024

In the first round of the presidential election held on April 24 in North Macedonia, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, the candidate of the conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, garnered the highest support among voters, surpassing the current president, Stevo Pendarovski from the pro-EU Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

While the vote was seen as a measure of public sentiment towards European integration, it is also anticipated to mirror discontent with the current policies of the ruling alliance between the SDSM and the ethnic Albania's Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

According to the state election commission's results, Siljanovska Davkova (70) secured 353,847 votes, enjoying a significant lead of over 170,000 votes, thereby earning the support of 40.19% of voters.

Pendarovski (61) received backing from just 19.99% of voters after 97.3% of the votes were counted. Both candidates will proceed to the second round of elections scheduled for May 8, coinciding with the general elections.

These presidential elections are the seventh in a row where citizens directly elect the head of state.

Bujar Osmani, a candidate of the coalition led by the ethnic Albanian party DUI, which also included parties of other minorities, took 13.38% of the votes, followed by the candidate of ethnic Albanian opposition, Arben Taravari, (9.35%), Maksim Dimitrievski from Znam (8.93%), Biljana Vankovska from the Left party (4.56%), and Stevco Jakimovski (0.9%).

The voter turnout stood at 48.38%. A total of over 1.8mn citizens were eligibile to vote.

Siljanovska Davkova hailed her victory as the "beginning of a new era". She reiterated her call for upholding the rule of law while emphasising the urgent need for unity. She pledged to engage in daily cooperation with the government, Parliament and all political parties including the opposition.

"This victory signifies a significant triumph for the people of Macedonia, for all its citizens," VMRO-DPMNE's leader Hristijan Mickoski said.

Pendarovski openly acknowledged that the election results did not meet his expectations. However, he made it clear that for the second round, he will not pursue any agreements with other political entities for the "transfer" of votes. "We are essentially starting from scratch," he said.

The election day was deemed peaceful and democratic by both institutions and most political parties, with no major incidents reported.

The requirement for North Macedonia to revise its constitution to incorporate the small Bulgarian minority as a prerequisite for commencing EU accession talks was one of the main issues of the pre-election campaign. VMRO-DPMNE is against these proposed amendments, and its position has struck a chord with many voters.

Many Macedonians are also unhappy with the current SDSM-led government’s failures to tackle issues such as corruption and high inflation.

"It's evident that the citizens have voiced their discontent, and we acknowledge that," said Dimitar Kovacevski, SDSM's leader and former prime minister, regarding the setback in the first round of the presidential elections.

He said that this defeat poses a significant setback for the country’s EU aspirations. Nonetheless, Kovacevski spoke of his party’s resilience, stating it will not capitulate and anticipating a change in outcomes on May 8, during the second round of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, declared independence through a referendum held on September 8, 1991. It's widely acknowledged that Kiro Gligorov, the first country president played a pivotal role in ensuring Macedonia's peaceful secession from the former Yugoslavia.

To meet Greek demands, the country renamed itself North Macedonia and attained Nato membership in 2020. Although it conducted the first intergovernmental conference with the EU in 2022, unlocking the chapters requires holding a second conference, contingent upon the constitutional amendments demanded by Bulgaria.