North Macedonia’s presidential runoff election on 5 May produced results guaranteed to calm fraying nerves in Athens, Washington, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin as the country’s new president will be Stevo Pendarovski, who was backed by the ruling centrist coalition of the Social Democrats and the minority Albanian DUI party, who won 51.7% of the vote.
Pendarovski is the candidate representing incumbent Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, a strong supporter of the Prespes Agreement which resolved the Name Dispute with Greece. Although the presidential post is largely ceremonial, his election, widely seen as a mini-referendum on the Prespes deal, essentially guarantees Skopje will continue on its path toward NATO membership in the short term and eventual EU accession.
Turnout above minimum threshold; electoral incidents minimal
With the vote count complete, North Macedonia’s electoral commission reported Pendarovski’s opponent, conservative Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, received 44.7% of the vote in the runoff election.
The electoral commission reported that turnout reached 46.6%, eliminating worries that the 40% participation threshold required by law would not be met.
The voting was reportedly conducted without incident although conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE has claimed there were “many irregularities” and it is an open secret the country’s voter list is in major need of updating.
Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova battled to a virtual tie — 42.8% to 42.2%, respectively — in the first electoral round on April 21, which featured a third candidate representing some segments of the country’s Albanian community, who received 10.6% of the vote.
There had been a concern that some in the Albanian community would boycott the second round, and in view of the lower turnout in the first round (41.8%), the higher 5 May turnout level should be seen as gratifying.
Glee in Brussels, relief in Athens
The watchful eye of Brussels, frequently seen in Skopje over the last year, was once again visible as Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted the EU’s congratulations and support for Pendarovski even before Skopje could settle down for the night of 5/6 May. Although Hahn’s pronouncements/promises for the region are omnipresent on Twitter, many in the Western Balkans remain unhappy with the lack of clarity from Brussels on the actual timeline of their accession processes.
Congratulations to @SPendarovski on his election as President of the Republic of #NorthMacedonia.I look forward to the continued cooperation on the #EU reform agenda in view of last year’s #Council Conclusions setting the path tow. opening #accession negotiations in June 2019 1/2
— Johannes Hahn (@JHahnEU) May 5, 2019
Especially in Athens, Pendarovski’s victory came with a sigh of relief. The party of poll-trailing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is widely expected to perform poorly in the 26 May Euro-elections which have been coupled with municipal elections in Greece, and any political developments in North Macedonia that would have cast a shadow on Tsipras’ claims as a “Balkan peacemaker” would have been used against his SYRIZA party candidates. General elections must be held in Greece by October and the Prespes Agreement will be a central topic in that campaign, as it has been these past months leading to Euro-elections.