Writes: Aleksandar Krzhallovski
On Sunday is the second round of presidential elections and this will be the main topic of this article. However, the title is borrowed from the Financial Times, referring to yesterday’s informal summit in Berlin, of the leaders of the Western Balkan countries with The Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. The PMs of Slovenia and Croatia were also invited, prompting Serbian president Vucic to ask why for example the prime ministers of other EU neighborhood countries are not invited, such as Dăncilă from Romania (who, by the way, now chairs the EU) or Hungary (Orban). But that is another matter; let’s go back to what primarily interests us in Macedonia and the title.
The summit was dedicated to regional co-operation and the “release” of remaining bilateral disputes (primarily between Serbia and Kosovo), and “in the spirit” or “on the wave” of the Prespa Agreement, which is perceived as a success story in the West to be followed by other countries in the region. This was further emphasized in the summit’s press releases and statements after the hosts realized that, as usual, the expectations in the region from the very summit were a bit too big and grown (in the case of Serbia and Kosovo, that it will be exactly in Berlin where the dialogue will be continued and the way towards a final agreement by the end of the year paved, and in the case of Macedonia and Albania, it will be here that the EU determination to start negotiations on the membership of these two countries in the Union will be announced). It is not uncommon for our region, and statements, pictures and announcements in social media by members of the government delegation – about another “historic summit” contributed to it.
Yes, at the summit, in the official statements of Merkel and Macron before its start, the achievement of the Prespa Agreement was unequivocally welcomed, praised as a great achievement and an example to be followed. And yes, given the informal nature of it, and perhaps for other reasons, there were not many other statements/articles about what was happening there, so there is room for speculation for the next days or a month/two to the “real” summit of the EU to decide on the possible enlargement. And maybe that is why yesterday’s article by the respectable Financial Times stood out, sparking polemics in our public, perhaps because of the provocative full headline “France and Germany pour cold water on Balkan hopes for immediate EU accession”. In other words, everything we have done with the Prespa Agreement is nice, but we’d better stop hoping for both EU membership in due time (10 years) and the start of the negotiations soon.
Unfortunately, this is the reality given the current situation in the EU (needs for internal reforms and restructuring, especially after Brexit), but also a realistic assessment of the level of implemented reforms that were demanded and expected from us, and are far from realized and functional. And, yes, this is cold water for inflated expectations, especially by the government, although it is not over till it is over, and hope dies last (including mine), so now we will expect the final formulation in June, and by then we will monitor the debates of the government and the opposition on this issue. And there is not much room for the opponents of the government to rejoice, nor for those who pointed out that the Government should not focus on the name issue alone – but rather to speed up the reforms (although with the “cold water” it turns out they were right, including 200 intellectuals with then open letter to the government in which they warned not to rush to an agreement with Greece), because this is a failure for the whole country and for all of us. And there is another confrontation with reality, where we are and how “good we are”, only now another ruling government realized that “inexpensive stories” do not pass in the EU, even when they are paid a lot, like ours with Greece.
Let’s go back to the presidential election and, eventually, how the Berlin summit will further influence the outcome. As I wrote last week, the result in terms of low turnout (41.8%) was a defeat for all political parties and an infamous confirmation of the low confidence (continuously under 20% in the last decade) that they have with the citizens. This should cause more concern for the achievement of the census (40%) in the second round; especially because of the fact that now there will be no ethnic Albanian candidate, so the low turnout in that ethnic group could further decrease.
Additionally, in the only poll published after the first round (M-prospect for MTV), a turnout rate of just over 40% is estimated, based on the answer (10 – very sure) to the control question “how sure you are that you will vote”. For the referendum, and even in the first round of elections, it turned out that turnout can be considered of (only) those citizens, while those who answered from 1 to 9, very little go to the polls. If the statistical error of 3.1% is taken into account, then the achievement of the census is really uncertain.
However, due to the closeness of the results of the first round, my expectation is much greater mobilization of the parties, and even of the citizens in the second round. If not to help “their” candidate, then (according to our traditional saying “let the neighbor’s goat die) to help the “other”- not to win! Also, DUI is under pressure to demonstrate that it is still the leading party in the Albanian bloc, so it is likely that the turnout in those areas will be greater than the first round (and there is also a lot of room for it, because it was smaller than all previous elections). This becomes even more important for the ultimate success of the joint candidate of the ruling coalition, since the M-prospect survey also shows a significant increase in the support for Siljanovska among the ethnic Macedonians (from 6% in the first round, up to 14% in the second round).
The same survey continues to predict Pendarovski’s overall advantage (precisely because of the explanation of the Albanians, who will vote for him mostly – only less than 2% said they would vote for Siljanovska), but just like in the first round – within the margin of the statistical error, so with a difference of 2.4 percentage points among the candidates, the final outcome on Sunday may vary from Pendarovski’s victory 5.5% to Siljanovska’s victory of 0.7%…if there are no new surprises during this week until the election day, events like those in the Islamic Religious Community of Macedonia, through campaign finals, to the effect of “cold water” from Berlin.
Speaking of the latter, depending on the interpretations of the messages from Berlin in the coming days, it can have a crucial impact on the election result. If the title of cold water regarding EU enlargement proves to be correct, it greatly devalues the ruling coalition’s narrative of “going forward” towards the EU and NATO (although the latter is already much certain and almost accomplished with almost half of the ratifications passed through the parliaments of the member states). With this, the small advantage that Pendarovski made in the first round can be melted.
In any case, it will be an interesting and uncertain presidential race, which, according to the message of the first round voters, may need to end without a census and with larger successive cuts and fundamental changes in the parties themselves. However, I think that the census will be achieved and one of the two candidates will win and become the new president of the state, and unfortunately the message to the parties will soon be forgotten and most of the things will probably continue in the same or similar way, with or without an EU integration perspective this year or at all soon. And it will not be anything new, and it will be okay, we will wait and be patient – at least we are famous for our patience!
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