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North Macedonia’s right-wing opposition scores victory in elections


WASHINGTON — North Macedonia elected its first woman president Wednesday as the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia suffered historic losses in presidential and parliamentary elections.

With nearly all the votes counted, university professor Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the presidential candidate of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE opposition party, won nearly 65% of the vote, with incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski winning 29%, according to the country’s State Election Commission.

In the parliamentary contest, the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition Your Macedonia won 43% of the votes, giving it 58 of the parliament’s 120 seats, just short of a majority.

Although it was uncertain on election day whether the 40% turnout threshold for the presidential election would be reached, due to calls for a boycott, the State Election Commission reported that turnout exceeded 46%.

In her first post-election public address, President-elect Siljanovska-Davkova promised to “act as the president of all citizens, of all ethnic groups, of party members, of those who are not in parties, because a president, especially not if she is a woman, cannot unite and search for unity if he sticks to party lines.”

VMRO-DPMNE party head Hristijan Mickoski called the election results a “historic victory for North Macedonia and the people of Macedonia,” adding that the ruling Social Democratic Union, or SDSM, lost because of “crime, corruption, incompetence, false values, the confiscated state, tenders, nepotism and a hundred other consequences that made the state suffer and the people disappointed.”

SDSM officials have repeatedly rejected these criticisms.

SDSM head Dimitar Kovacevski congratulated the victors Wednesday while telling reporters that his party’s loss was “disappointing” and “a heavy blow.”

EU and NATO considerations

The country agreed to change its name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia in 2019 following a decadeslong dispute with Greece over the designation.

In a 2018 referendum, voters in North Macedonia approved an agreement with Greece that included changing the country’s name in order to clear the way for its European Union and NATO accession. However, turnout for the referendum was less than the 50% threshold required to validate the results, leaving parliament to approve the change.

Mickoski has refused to acknowledge the country’s name change and the 2018 agreement with Greece. The opposition also supports standing firm in ongoing linguistic and historical disputes with neighboring Bulgaria, an EU member that has blocked North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations.

EU membership negotiations with North Macedonia — and fellow-candidate Albania — began in 2022, and the process is expected to take years.

Commenting Wednesday on North Macedonia’s elections and their potential effect on the country’s EU accession bid, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Gabriel Escobar said, “I am confident and hope that regardless of the elections in North Macedonia, the road to Europe will continue.”

On Tuesday, European Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero told reporters in Brussels that “North Macedonia has committed itself to constitutional changes and, from our perspective, we believe that all political forces will focus on progress in the EU integration process.”

Pisonero added: “The European Council has clearly stated what the expectations are and we, for our part, fully support the perspective of North Macedonia’s membership in the EU, and we hope that we will be able to open the negotiation process as soon as possible.”

Corruption is an issue

The European Commission reported in November that corruption, another hot-button issue, “remains prevalent in many areas” of North Macedonia.

In December, U.S. Ambassador to North Macedonia Angela Aggeler said there was “an epidemic of corruption in this country that has affected every sector, every organization, and only by exposing the corrupt actors can we begin to help the country address these issues.”

The VMRO-DPMNE has accused the SDSM and its junior coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, the third-largest political party and largest ethnic Albanian political party, of causing a “corruption pandemic.”

Wednesday was the third time that Macedonian citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere outside North Macedonia voted in the country’s presidential elections.

According to the State Election Commission, more than 2,300 domestic and international observers monitored the voting.