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Background 18 Mar 14

Macedonia Elections Profile

In April, Macedonia will hold parallel presidential and early general elections - the latter considered more important as they will determine who will hold the most powerful post in the country, that of the Prime Minister.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian Parliament

On April 13, Macedonia will vote for a new head of state. The second round of voting between the two best-ranked candidates will take place two weeks later.

On April 27, Macedonians will also vote for 123 legislators in six electoral districts. Three legislators will be elected from the diaspora. More than 1.7 million people are eligible to vote.

How many can vote?

More than 1.7 million people of a total population of about 2.2 million are eligible to vote on April 27.

What is at stake?

The economy, social policies and democratic standards are expected to be the focus of the early general election campaign.

Voters will generally choose between the nationalistic centre-right VMRO DPMNE, which has been in power for more than eight years, and the Social Democrats, whose campaign is based on pledges of economic, social and democratic reform.

While the ruling party insists it is luring foreign investment into infrastructure projects, the opposition argues that the country is becoming too dependent on borrowed money, and that ordinary people are suffering from social injustice and from a decline in democracy.

In the presidential race, the main battle is again expected to be between the candidates of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE and the opposition Social Democrats.

The dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s name, although it is the most pressing foreign policy issue, and although it is blocking both NATO and [the hope of] EU membership, is not expected to play as significant a role in these elections as it did in the 2011 snap polls.

However, on this issue, VMRO DPMNE is seen as more hard line and nationalistic. The Social Democrats lean towards a pragmatic compromise that would end the impasse with Greece.

Since 2008, Macedonia has made no significant progress towards NATO and EU membership because of the dispute with Greece over the country’s name.

Macedonia’s dilemma is either to reach an unpopular deal with Greece that would end the blockade, or risk a longer stalemate that could damage the country’s economic and political future.

The Prime Minister:

The Prime Minister if the most powerful office holder in Macedonia. Unlike the President, who wields considerable influence over foreign policy and the armed forces, all other fields are generally in the hands of the Prime Minister.

He/she is the head of the government and ultimately responsible for its policy and decisions. He/she oversees the operation of government agencies and proposes members of the cabinet.

Like all cabinet members, the Prime Minister is elected by parliament.

The Prime Minister thus has the key word on practically all domestic and international issues, although the President has the right to refuse to sign laws adopted by the ruling majority in parliament.

The President:

The President is significantly less powerful than the Prime Minister. The President is the supreme commander of the armed forces and, together with the Foreign Ministry, shares responsibility for foreign policy, having the final say on appointments of ambassadors.

In domestic affairs, the presidential role is largely ceremonial. However, the President has the power to block bills that parliament has passed, by refusing to sign them.

The President is elected in direct elections held each five years.

The voting system:

For the purposes of general elections, the country is divided into six electoral units, each contributing 20 legislators to the 120-seat parliament. Voters in the diaspora have had the right to vote since the 2011 election, and elect three MPs.

The parties propose lists of 20 candidates in each of the six electoral units. The more votes that a party wins in each of the six units, the more candidates from that list enter parliament. The legislators’ term lasts for four years.

For the presidential vote, the country and the diaspora are considered a single electoral unit. If no presidential candidate wins more than 50 per cent of votes of all the registered voters in the electoral roll in the first round, a second round is organized two weeks later between the two runners who won most votes in the first round. For the vote to succeed, at least 40 per cent of the electorate must cast ballots.

General elections:

This is the eighth general election since Macedonia became independent in the 1990s and the third early election in a row.

Most opinion polls give the ruling VMRO-DPMNE a significant lead over the main opposition Social Democrats. But some political observers say a surprise result remains possible if the opposition can mobilize enough undecided “swing” voters, many of whom feel generally disappointed with all existing political options.

The vote will also determine the winner in the ethnic Albanian bloc. Albanians make up about a quarter of the total population. Past practice is that the winner in this bloc ends up in a coalition government with the winning Macedonian party.

Polls show that the governing Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, has most chance of coming first among Albanian voters, beating the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.

Presidential election:

This is the fifth presidential election since Macedonia became independent in the 1990s. Four hopefuls are running in the race.

VMRO DPMNE has nominated current President Gjorge Ivanov who, over the past five years of his term, has maintained a low political profile and followed the lead of Prime Minister Gruevski.

The Social Democrats have put forward Stevo Pendarovski, a former advisor to ex-presidents Boris Trajkovski and Branko Crvenkovski. Seen as a pragmatist, he has pledged to contest government policies and boost the power of the presidency.

The former deputy speaker of parliament, Iljaz Halimi, is the only ethnic Albanian running for the position, endorsed by the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA. The small GROM party has nominated Zoran Popovski.

Polls give the best chance of winning the presidential election to the incumbent, Ivanov, thanks to the support he enjoys from the powerful ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

However, observers say Pendarovski’s less inflammatory rhetoric may attract undecided voters as well as appealing to ethnic Albanians.

One stain on the presidential race is the insistence of the DUI, the junior party in government, that it will dispute the legitimacy of the next president unless a new election model is adopted whereby the main Albanian and Macedonian parties in parliament agree on a candidate in advance.

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Stay tuned for all the latest developments, election results and reactions as Macedonia goes to the polls to elect a new government and head of state.


Macedonia Elections Profile

In April, Macedonia will hold parallel presidential and early general elections - the latter considered more important as they will determine who will hold the most powerful post in the country, that of the Prime Minister.