The presidential election, since the term of incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov expires in May, should be held sometime in March, 2019. The survey about the ratings of possible candidates may come relatively early, especially considering that other important political processes are under way, such as the adoption of the necessary constitutional changes to complete Macedonia’s obligations in relation to the Prespa Agreement with Greece, but also the recently adopted law on amnesty for the events in the Assembly of 27 April 2017. Obviously, this is another necessary “bitter pill” that needs to be swallowed in order to secure the implementation of the agreement, and hence the hope that we will finally become a NATO member and maybe in June we will get a date for negotiations with the EU. However, it is not so early, because after the expected vote on the constitutional changes in mid-January, the Assembly will soon schedule the election for a new president (the current one has no right to a third term) and will start the campaign in February. Quickly after the poll, the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE also announced that it will publish an ad for presidential candidates in early January that would want to be supported by this political party. Finally, it has been rumors for some time in the public about possible candidates, and that was an additional reason for such a survey.
As in any survey, in which respondents are given a list of names so they could give their opinion about them (whether they would vote if they are running), the first problem is the list itself, ie the choice of the persons to be found on it. Considering that I did not participate directly in the finalization of the list, I too am allowed to say that Bujar Osmani should not have been on it (who cannot be a candidate, because he is not over 40 years old), and perhaps the name of Denko Maleski should have been, who in the past period was mentioned as a possible candidate more than some of those who are actually on the list. There were statements later, from some of those on the list, that their names should not have been on that list. However, that’s that and we can only comment on what is being asked. Of course, this is the first poll of this election, and the possible options of parties and candidates will be crystallized.
A second remark before commenting is that on such issues, when requiring a choice with only one of the proposed candidates (similar to the ratings of politicians), the larger the list (and in this case it was relatively large) the more the “votes” of the respondents are distributed and thus individual ratings are lower than usual. For instance, it is visible with the percentages for Prime Minister Zaev, who in the poll two weeks ago (for the ratings of politicians) had 21% confidence of the voting body, while this poll now accounts for about 12% (although he is the leading candidate on it, but with almost twice as much support as the prime minister).
And this is probably the first thing to comment on and the first major dilemma – both for him personally, for the SDSM party, and for the wider public: should Zoran Zaev be running for president of Macedonia? Although he is currently the most popular politician, with three times more support than his closest competitor, and this poll shows leadership if he decides to run for president, most comments in the public were against it. He himself stated that he had other candidates who would have been better than him for this particular post, and also announced 2019 as the year in which he and the government would fully commit themselves to the economy, and thus indirectly pointed out that there would be no intention to “run” a presidential campaign. Even from the circles close to SDSM it is suggested that this would not be a good option, reminding of the situation in 2004, when the then Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski became president, and that the cost of that was SDSM’s defeat in the next elections in 2006, due to unresolved promises to voters.
I believe that this argument is maintained and that the public still has great expectations from this Government, so that after resolving the dispute with Greece (if it passes as envisaged in the Agreement), there must be significant and visible progress in the reforms of the Priebe list: judiciary, corruption, security structures, media, elections, etc. But one could never know, and as if in a joke (or half-truth) I heard a comment – besides the personal opinion and the attitude of the party, for such a post, even his wife might have a significant influence on the decision to run!
According to the results of the survey, the president of VMRO-DPMNE, who, in the absence of the other two of their ranks, had a higher rating in the past few months (Gjorgje Ivanov, who is not allowed to be a candidate because of already two presidential terms, and Nikola Gruevski, who is now in Hungary as a political asylum seeker), has increased the percentage of support for Macedonia’s president (8.2%) in relation to his personal rating as president of VMRO-DPMNE (7.5%). Namely, in the situation when the consolidation of his leadership in the party is slowly closing, approximately one year after the Valandovo Congress, when he was elected as the party’s leader, it is unlikely that he would be (and should be) a candidate of VMRO-DPMNE for president of the state.
Given these arguments, I would dare to predict that neither of the two presidents of the largest political parties (SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE), Zaev and Mickoski – will not run for president in the March election. This will leave a lot of space for other candidates. According to the poll, the next most serious candidates are Nikola Dimitrov and Stevo Pendarovski, with 8.2 percent and 6.8 percent support respectively. Both men have relatively good support among ethnic Macedonians (8-10 percent), but also some support among ethnic Albanians (small – about 3 percent, but important, especially for the second round of elections). Unfortunately, this poll also demonstrates alarming polarization on a party basis. Namely, none of them, as well as any other candidate of SDSM, can count on almost any votes from the supporters of VMRO-DPMNE, and also vice versa (all estimates are below 0.5%).
The term “consensual candidate” was frequently mentioned for this election, most often in the discussions between SDSM and DUI, which, in conditions when it was not explained what was meant by it, usually meant proposing one candidate on behalf of the entire ruling majority, or all supporters of the Prespa Agreement, which would include all ethnic Albanian parliamentary parties (ie all but VMRO-DPMNE). In some interpretations, it was interpreted as a possible Albanian candidate, but given that the current president of the Assembly is Talat Xhaferi – from the Albanian ethnic community, it is not very likely that the possible consensus candidate for the presidential post would be from that community. After all the turbulence in the Parliament and in the ruling coalition in the past months, it is not very likely that a jointly supported candidate will be agreed upon (except perhaps only by SDSM and DUI).
But, as I emphasized in the limitations in the beginning, this is only an initial poll, and if the leaders of the two biggest parties are excluded of the election race (and say it publicly and relatively early), this will open up a lot of room for drastic changes in the percentages presented to all candidates from the list, and of course for new people who did not even find themselves in this survey. It has yet to become interesting on this issue, and it is indicating an interesting New Year, which I wish is a happy one to all readers!