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Macedonian ruling coalition favourite to win presidential election amidst ellegularities

On 13 April Macedonia will go to the polls to elect a new president. The top two contenders will compete against each other in a second round on 27 April. Four candidates are in the race to become Macedonia's largely symbolic Head of State. On 27 April, Macedonian's will also vote for parliament in the early general elections. The general elections are considered more important as they will determine who will become the most powerful person in the country, the Prime Minister.

Presidential candidates

None of the four presidential candidates is expected to gain an absolute majority in the first round on 13 April. After five years in office, incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov is aiming at a second term. Ivanov runs for the ruling conservative Christian Democratic, Nationalistic, VMRO DPMNE party and leads in the polls. Observers criticize his indiscriminate support for the government, agreeing to all government policies. Reflecting on his past five years in office Ivanov said, "I have given the utmost of myself, as I was aware of the expectations and responsibilities, and of what it means in such times to hold this responsible position".

Ivanov's primary adversary is the opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) Stevo Pendarovski. Pandarovski pledged to use the presidency to confront "violations of human rights, the apparent destruction of democracy, the robbery of our homeland and the widening divisions within the country." Observers say he is a pragmatic politician who believes the future of Macedonia lies in a strategic partnership with NATO and the EU.  

The two other candidates, Ilya Halimi of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (DPA) and Zoran Popovski of the Civil Option for Macedonia (GROM), also take part. Halimi has been deputy speaker of Parliament and is the only ethnic Albanian running for President.

A failed campaign?

According to election monitors from CIVIL, Center for Freedom, some political parties continue to misuse public funds and resources for election activities. The non-governmental organisation CIVIL reported bribery on Wednesday 9 April. Also CIVIL accused the political parties for campaigning at schools, which has been prohibited. The ruling coalition had been accused before of irregularities when it forced civil servants to vote on them in exchange for job security in 2011. NGOs provide the most domestic election monitors for the duration of the election.

Also, a long awaited televised Presidential debate on 5 April turned out to be a disappointment. All four candidates took part in the debate on a whole range of issues, including the Name-dispute with Greece, the faltering accession talks with the EU and NATO, the democratic deficit and human rights. Observers claimed these issues to be the most important topics of the campaign.

Communications expert Marko Trosanovski said, "the debate did not live up to expectations. The candidates did not use their opportunities to respond during the first few questions, which was unacceptable, especially for the candidates challenging the current head of state". Another analyst, Jove Kekenovski, said: "It was monotonous and did not stir interest among people. The journalist failed to inspire the candidates who were fairly courteous to each other, not letting a real debate take place".

Expectations about the televised debate where high as it was the first time incumbent president Ivanov faced his main challenger Pendarovski. Politicians of the ruling party had been avoiding direct televised debates since the general elections of 2006.

Voting will start Saturday 13 April with the second round of the presidential elations, as well as the general elections, to follow on 27 April. Ivanov and Pendarovski are likely to compete in the second round. If the opposition Pendarovski manages to get the Albanian vote, he might have a chance to win the elections. It is very unlikely that the large Albanian minority in Macedonia (around 35%) will vote for Ivanov as they do not feel represented by him.  

Sources: Balkan Inside I, Balkan Inside II, Balkan Inside IIISophia Globe, Turkish Weekly.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

photo: balkaneu