By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
Past week brought a clarification of the question of who will take part in the upcoming presidential race. After the election of Gordana Siljanovska Davkova for VMRO-DPMNE candidate two weeks ago, the nomination of Stevo Pendarovski as a joint candidate of SDSM (and their coalition of thirty parties) and DUI was confirmed. Also, the opposition parties in the “Albanian” bloc supported the candidacy of Blerim Reka, so it can be expected that he will also collect the necessary 10,000 signatures from citizens so that he can be a candidate in the elections.
In the game for possible candidacy there are still several people who seek the support of 10 thousand citizens, but it is unlikely that they will succeed in this by the end of the deadline – Saturday, March 9, until midnight, so it is quite certain that the race will be reduced to the above-mentioned three professors.
What was characteristic of these nominations? Well, although there has been progress from the previous election cycles, we cannot boast that they were very democratic. In VMRO-DPMNE there were several candidates (10 registered and 9 accepted), who had the opportunity to present themselves at the Struga Convention and to be voted, the outcome with a convincing support for one candidate in the first round of voting indicates directing delegates how to vote. But at least the democratic procedure was respected and there was secret voting for all accepted candidates.
In SDSM the process was slightly more chaotic. First, a “consensual candidate” was announced, who was supposed to include all SDSM coalition parties, as well as parties in the Albanian bloc, preferably all. After the announcement of VMRO-DPMNE that there were several registered candidates for their convention, SDSM also opened a competition for presidential candidacies and according to the latest information before the Congress, 24 candidates applied for it. In the meantime, the negotiations with the Alliance for Albanians were disrupted (i.e. did not take place), and the relations with DUI were hot-cold. Finally, the presidents of SDSM and DUI reached an agreement on Wednesday for a joint candidate, announced on Friday, and confirmed at the Congress on Sunday. The Congress itself turned out unnecessary, as the delegates voted only for the candidate Stevo Pendarovski. But the support of 31 parties from all ethnic communities was also emphasized, and he was also presented as a consensual candidate (see below).
Finally, it is not clear (or at least it is not clear to me, with limited following the news in Albanian language and/or in the media dominantly for the Albanian ethnic community), what procedure the candidacy of Blerim Reka was established and supported in.
All in all, re-depicting of the characteristic “sultan-parties”, that is, the dominant way of deciding “from top to bottom”, does not promise that something important will soon change for better towards more democratic practices, first in the parties, and then at the state level.
The way the parties chose their presidential candidates is not the most important matter in these elections. I mentioned one of the important empty phrases often used by the ruling coalition – a consensual candidate!
The claim is that for the first time we have a candidate supported simultaneously by the two largest (and all other) ethnic communities – Macedonians and Albanians. And that is right – but does it make Stevo Pendarovski a consensual candidate? I would not say so! Because the word consensus means a widely supported agreement, in the best case, of all! In the European Union, consensus decisions means the consent of all 28 member states and, unfortunately, we have learned that very well, because due to one member only – Greece there was no (until we changed the name of the country) consensus on admission to NATO and the start of negotiations with the EU. So here, the question is – who are all? If it is only SDSM and DUI – then yes, the candidate is consensual. But the fact that there is another candidate (Siljanovska) means that there is no consent from everyone (and the elections will show how much they disagree), that is, there is no consensus on Pendarovski. And the argument for support from both Macedonians and Albanians, although important in itself, failed with Blerim Reka’s candidacy in the sense of an interethnic consensual candidate.
I think that term should not be used unless SDSM and DUI, instead of the required 30 parliamentary signatures, manage to provide support of at least 80 – then they can claim to have a consensual candidate. And in general, while there are elections and the system is not changed, and the president is elected by a two-thirds majority, we cannot talk about a consensual candidate.
But it is not the most important thing for these elections.
One of the more important things is whether they have the characteristics that citizens value. In the last MCIC survey, the main three features that the President should have were: honesty, responsibility and tolerance. The epitome of these three features is the late President Boris Trajkovski. The campaign will show whether and how much these three candidates are like that, and then the election of one of them and the fulfillment of the mandate, but also from the first impressions it can be concluded that all three have enough of these required characteristics. They do not have any stains and scams behind (honesty), they stick to their attitudes and principles and respect the institutional order (responsibility), and they have shown a high level of patience and understanding of the attitudes of others (tolerance). It remains to be seen to what extent, especially this last, they will demonstrate until the elections.
The second important thing is – what the main points of campaign confrontation will be. They are all professors, so the initial “academic advantage” of VMRO-DPMNE with Siljanovska is neutralized with Pendarovski in SDSM, and Professor Reka afterwards. And with age they are not very far (8 years), and gender may bring some vote plus for Siljanovska, but the question is whether it will have any greater influence (we will see it I hope with the first polls). However, the battle remains on some topics – and the most obvious is the Prespa Agreement. Siljanovska was (and is) an opponent of the Agreement (although she said she would respect it, but she would try to change some of the consequences it brings), and Pendarovski was (and is) one of his main proponents.
It seems that the VMRO-DPMNE choice with Siljanovska is precisely in order to impose this confrontation in the campaign and in some way these elections to be reduced to (de) legitimizing the Prespa Agreement and constitutional changes (or in some way – second referendum, this time without a boycott).
Another confrontation can be in terms of the performance of the government. As much as we say that these elections are “not about that”, that is, we choose among individuals, moreover, they are all “non-partisan” (i.e., they are not members of the parties that propose/support them), however they are candidates of parties and many voters are likely to opt for the party, instead of (only for) the candidate, based on their affiliation to one or the other party, or measuring the achievements of this government in terms of their expectations (or election promises).
Unfortunately, I think that this will overshadow the fact that this time all candidates are non-partisan, which for me would perhaps be the most important thing in these elections, as a hope for departization and gradual depolarization of the society. On the contrary, we are probably going to have another high-polarized and confrontational campaign. Let’s hope that at least it will be more civilized than the previous, dignified and correct, respecting the political opponent.
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