The presidential elections in North Macedonia last Sunday produced both a winner – pro-EU and pro-Nato candidate Stevo Pendarovski, a member of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) – and the necessary turnout. According to the Macedonian constitution, a minimum of 40 per cent of votes are required to validate the result under the constitution. After almost a decade at the bottom of the list of Western Balkans’ aspirants entering the European Union, North Macedonia climbed a steep slope to catch up, even overtaking some along the way.
Its path included public protests and external pressure (from the United States and the EU) which brought down long-time authoritarian prime minister Nikola Gruevski. His successor – Zoran Zaev, a relatively unknown politician from a small town – led an SDSM government that concluded a friendship treaty with Bulgaria and resolved the long-standing dispute with another neighbour, Greece, over North Macedonia’s name. The agreement was ratified by a slim margin but secured a majority in parliament following a positive but insufficient referendum.
Zaev’s victory was the last episode in a process that began more than three years ago and proved that a clear vision and strong political will can defeat authoritarian leaders, resolve symbolic issues with neighbours (even in the Balkans!), and reinstate a country’s as a credible EU candidate. Now, Skopje expects to begin negotiations with the EU in the second half of 2019.
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(Photo via vlada.mk)