The election is a new referendum

The election is a new referendum

Gjorgji Spasov
Former Ambassador and former Minister of Justice

The presidential election in Ukraine will be held on March 31, 2019. Approximately at that same time, the presidential election in Macedonia will also be held. And while already 15 politicians, public figures and businessmen in Ukraine announced that they intend to run for that important position in the country, and a dozen public opinion polls have regularly measured and announced the chances of those candidates for victory in the election, we Macedonians don’t even bother to start such preparations.

Although Macedonia is not a country with a semi-presidential system like Ukraine and the powers of the president are significantly smaller in our country than in countries with a presidential system (such as the United States) and semi-presidential (like Ukraine and France), the silence about possible candidates for future president of Macedonia and the poor interest of candidates for this post seems a bit unusual.

One of the reasons for this is that the country’s largest opposition party does not currently know where its head is. After Nikola Gruevski fled the country, the detention and trial of a number of former party officials, exclusion and dismissal from office of MPs who think differently from the leader Hristijan Mickoski, VMRO-DPMNE will have a hard time finding a candidate for that post, a candidate who would voluntarily accept to participate in the defeat of this election.

But, nevertheless, Mickoski seems to have started the campaign for the presidential election with the protests that he will hold every Wednesday before the government building. He already called on the very first one: “Let’s win the presidential election and thus put an end to this dark regime, and put Macedonia back on its feet.” In other words, Mickoski announced that the presidential election intends to turn them into a kind of new referendum on which direction Macedonia will move.

On the other hand, SDSM has other important things for now. The political fate of Zaev and SDSM, as well as the possible success or failure of the presidential election will depend primarily on whether it will manage to preserve the required two-thirds majority to change the Constitution, which is why Greece should ratify the Prespa Agreement. If that majority is held, after the ratification of the agreement by Greece, Macedonia will receive an invitation to join NATO, it will receive a date for starting the EU accession talks, and there will be many deserving of this great step forward in Macedonia. Among them, besides Prime Minister Zaev, who has already announced that he does not intend to be a candidate for president of the state, are certainly the few most deserving of that success, such as Radmila Sekerinska, Nikola Dimitrov, Stevo Pendarovski and Bujar Osmani. The presidential election in that case will be not only another confirmed referendum of the already adopted decision to support the Agreement with Greece, which opens the doors to Macedonia for membership in NATO and the EU, but with the victory on them, the current government coalition, will remove the largest obstacle in the country for continuing the process, an obstacle called Gjorge Ivanov. Macedonia needs a president who will sign the already ratified agreement with Greece, the Law on Languages, the Law on Proclamation of the Constitution after the changes, which will also guarantee the rule of law and who will not hysterically oppose all policies of the government and of the parliamentary majority. But a president whose legitimacy will finally be recognized by all political parties in Macedonia is also needed.

Hence, the party DUI, as the “exclusive representative of the political rights of the Albanians”, comes out again with the idea that when choosing a president of the state Albanians “must not be voted out.” And in order for that not to happen, and not to have to re-engage DUI to boycott the presidential election as it did in 2014, and Macedonia to get a president whose legitimacy will be respected by all political parties, suggests that the parties of the government coalition should come out in this election with a previously “consensually determined candidate for that position”.

This in itself does not seem contentious or complicated, although in each of the parties there is a nomination procedure, and ultimately, their candidate for president is determined by secret ballot of the convention of the party that consists of all delegates at their congress. Having in mind the success of the pre-election coalition of SDSM and DUI during the last local elections and the common interest in electing a presidential candidate to support the implementation of the government’s policies and the current parliamentary majority, such a solution can easily be found after checking the ratings of all possible candidates.

But no matter what kind of agreements the political parties reach, and how much one emphasizes the referendum vote of the citizens in this election, they may be uncertain until the last moment.

For the first time, such election is held in almost half of the new government’s term, when the opposition can easily mobilize protest votes. They are held in conditions of strong political confrontation between the government and the opposition after the held referendum on the name, and at times of intensification of global political clashes in the Balkans. And this time, the presidential election is not held simultaneously neither in parliamentary nor local elections, as was the case in 2009 and 2014, so there will be no additional mobilization and motivation of the electoral body.

Considering that the ruling coalition, which was boycotted by the opposition, secured turnout of 666,344 citizens or about 37 percent of the electoral body in the referendum, and for the successful election of the president of the state, turnout of at least 40 percent of the voters is required, then it becomes clear that without the agreement of all political subjects in the country that there will be no boycott in the second round, Macedonia will probably fail in electing a president.

If the government coalition, with a common presidential candidate, secures its candidate to win those 609,427 votes already in the first round of election it received in the referendum, it may be a guarantee that its candidate will be elected in the first round. But the question is whether the presidential election will not be used by more parties to receive media attention in the first round and to measure their political support among voters with their candidates, for which they will provide 10 thousand signatures.

If there is no agreement, the Alliance of Albanians and DUI and Besa, as well as many other independent candidates from the Macedonian ethnic bloc, can do it.

Although it seems that there is a lot of time until the presidential election, to measure ratings, negotiate and make decisions, and even for a campaign, some preparations need to start immediately. The first of them is of course to reach an agreement between the parties in the ruling coalition (above all, between SDSM and DUI) for a mutually acceptable candidate for president. And the second is to sign a declaration of fair elections among all the parties that will participate in the election that no one will boycott the second round (ie, at least this referendum), despite the results in the first round.

Without such a contract, a president might not be elected for the first time in Macedonia, or we could yet again have a president who will not be recognized as an electoral legitimacy.

Just to remind you, in the first election round of the 2014 presidential election that was boycotted by DUI, turnout was 37.5 percent, while in the second round, which was held simultaneously with the parliamentary election, turnout was only 41.1 percent with all the resources that VMRO-DPMNE had that year they had for bringing their supporters to polling stations and for falsification of the electoral will.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik