Voters in Macedonia are to vote in the first round of presidential elections on April 13 2014 and a week later, will have a double task – voting in the second round and in snap parliamentary elections.
Few surprises are expected in the political landscape dominated by Nikola Gruevski, leader of VMRO-DPMNE and current prime minister, who is behind the nomination of incumbent president Gjeorge Ivanov for a second term and who, when confronted with a governing coalition partner’s demand for early elections, said: “I accept the challenge”.
In the presidential elections, there are four candidates, with Ivanov the frontrunner and with interest in the vote for a head of state likely to be eclipsed by the election of a parliament a week later.
Ivanov (53) was first elected president in 2009, thanks in part by securing the support of ethnic Albanian voters.
A former student political activist and former journalist, he completed studies in law before founding the Institute for Democracy, Solidarity and Civil Society, his last post before being picked by Gruevski as VMRO-DPMNE’s candidate president.
The largest Macedonian opposition party, LSDM, has chosen Stevo Pendarovski, a 50-year-old lawyer with a doctorate in foreign security and EU policies, to stand against Ivanov. Pendarovski was interior ministry spokesperson in the turbulent times of 2001, later being appointed as a security issues adviser to then-president Branko Cervenkovski. He headed the state election commission from 2004 to 2005 and now is professor of international relations at the American College in Skopje.
Opposition party PDSH, which has an ethnic Albanian support base, has put forward Iljaz Halimi, born in Tetovo in 1955. A sociology professor, Halimi founded the Democratic People’s Party, which later merged with Arber Xhaferri’s PDSH, with Halimi serving for a time as deputy leader of the party. Halimi has held various state posts, including as deputy speaker of parliament and deputy minister of defence.
The only ethnic Albanian in the presidential race, Halimi has the endorsement of opposition Albanian party the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.
Minority party GROM has fielded Zoran Popovski, a 51-year-old professor expert in molecular biology and biotechnology. His chances are effectively microscopic.
It was the issue of presidential elections that led to Macedonia’s parliamentary elections, after governing coalition partner Democratic Union for Integration, BDI, proposed that parliament be dissolved after VMRO-DPMNE refused their proposal for a joint presidential candidate.
BDI had demanded a consensual candidate acceptable to the Macedonian and ethnic Albanian populations.
From the point of view of some opposition parties, all of this was just theatre, a scenario prepared in advance by the parties in the governing coalition – a charge that those parties deny.
BDI wants to use the parliamentary elections, and their outcome, to push a number of its issues.
The head of the BDI parliamentary group, Nexhati Jakupi, told the Independent Balkan News Agency that the party wanted early elections to come up with a different share among the parties in parliament. He said that this would mean a “new momentum” to Macedonia’s European integration process, as well as issues directed related to the ethnic Albanian community, including wider use of the Albanian language, and “fair representation” in state institutions.
Gruevski accused BDI of putting their demand for a consensual candidate for president in the certainty that it would fail, as part of what he saw as a BDI scheme to get hold of the three leading positions in the country and stave off elections for long enough for a government to accept the Greek position in the dispute between Athens and Skopje on the use of the name “Macedonia”.
LSDM MP Renata Treneska said that the party was taking part in both the presidential and parliamentary elections but said that there should be urgent changes to election laws, included adjusted deadlines for campaigning and fairer rules on media access for political parties.
Macedonian political analyst and expert of communication sciences Petar Arsovski said that the holding of early elections along with presidential elections favoured both parties of the governing coalition, VMRO-DPMNE and BDI.
“These parties are interested in early elections, because at the moment, they still enjoy support in polls. These elections may be favourable in forming a new governing majority. They certainly have their own interest. To them it’s better than waiting until 2015, by which time they may have lost the trust of the voters,”Arsovski said.
With reporting by the Independent Balkan News Agency.
(Photo of Macedonian president Gjeorge Ivanov: Nato.int)