Macedonia: Gearing up for Presidential Elections
Macedonia: Gearing up for Presidential Elections
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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Report / Europe & Central Asia 5 minutes

Macedonia: Gearing up for Presidential Elections

On 31 October and 14 November 1999, Macedonian citizens will go to the polls to elect a successor to 82-year-old President Kiro Gligorov, who is stepping down after two terms in office.

Executive Summary

On 31 October and 14 November 1999, Macedonian citizens will go to the polls to elect a successor to 82-year-old President Kiro Gligorov, who is stepping down after two terms in office.

All major political parties in Macedonia have a high stake in winning the presidential elections, the first test of political strength since the parliamentary elections of October 1998, which resulted in a change of government from the centre-left to the centre-right.  The upcoming presidential elections will also determine whether Macedonia will continue with its model of political cohabitation, in place since autumn1998, or whether one political camp will hold both the government and the presidency.

The presidential office in Macedonia carries political weight.  Although the Macedonian constitution vests most executive political power in the government and prime minister, and legislative power lies mainly with the parliament, the president is more than just a figurehead.  He represents the Republic, acts as commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, and is chairman of the Security Council of the Republic of Macedonia.  The president also has the right to veto legislation, though the parliament may override his veto by a majority vote of the full house.  The president has specific powers with regards to foreign policy, and appoints candidates to several important state bodies, such as the Constitutional Court.

The president is elected by general, secret and direct elections for a five-year term.  He can serve for two terms at the most.  The president must be at least 40 years of age on the day of the election, he must be a Macedonian citizen, and he must have been resident in Macedonia for at least ten years within the last 15 years preceding the election, although time of residence in other republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is also included in this time span.

Presidential candidates can be nominated either by 10,000 eligible voters or by 30 parliamentary deputies.  To be elected president in the first round of voting, a candidate must receive a majority of the total number of registered voters.  If no candidate is elected in the first round, the two best-placed candidates contest a second round of voting.  In the second round, the candidate who receives a majority of votes cast is elected president, provided that more than half of the registered voters went to the polls.

Six candidates will contest the 1999 presidential elections, all of them backed by political parties.  A number of independents who earlier declared their intention to run in the elections either failed to gather the necessary signatures or withdrew before submitting the necessary documentation to the State Electoral Commission.

Plans by the ruling coalition to field a common candidate fell apart, and all three coalition parties nominated their own candidates.  The opposition also failed to agree on a joint candidate, as did the two major Albanian parties (one of which is in the government, the other in opposition).

The presidential candidates put forward by the ruling parties are:

  • Boris Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO–DPMNE), currently deputy foreign minister;
  • Vasil Tupurkovski leader of the Democratic Alternative (DA) and director of the Agency for Reconstruction and Development; and
  • Muharem Nexhipi of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), currently Deputy Minister of Health. 

The opposition is represented by:

  • Stojan Andov of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a veteran politician and former chairman of the Assembly (parliament);
  • Muhamed Halili of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), a former government minister and currently Macedonia’s ambassador to Denmark; and
  • Tito Petkovski of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), also a former chairman of the Assembly.

According to opinion polls published thus far, the number of undecided voters is fairly high, but few of the people polled have indicated they would not vote at all.  The polls indicate that none of the ethnic Albanian candidates has a chance of getting through to the second round.  Tupurkovski’s chances also look very slim.  The front-runners appear to be Trajkovski and Petkovski, with Andov close at their heels according to some polls.  It is unclear who would have better chances in a second round, especially since most people polled indicated that their choice would be determined by the candidates’ personality rather than party affiliation.

As the election campaign is heating up, serious cracks are beginning to show in the ruling coalition, in particular between VMRO–DPMNE and DA.  The two parties disagreed on controversial changes to the State Electoral Commission and on the sale of the OKTA refinery to a Greek company.  In both cases, the coalition was brought to the verge of break-up.  Relations are likely to deteriorate further as the campaign enters its decisive phase.  A fragmentation of the coalition following the elections can no longer be ruled out.  If this happens, the DA will probably find itself out of the government.  Early parliamentary elections, however, do not appear likely at this point, since a government supported by a majority in parliament will most likely be formed if the current coalition breaks up.

Relations between Macedonia and the international community, most notably the Kosovo Protection Force (KFOR) have taken a turn for the worse over the past months.  Many Macedonians feel that the continued presence of KFOR troops in their country is having a negative impact on their quality of life.  Several recent incidents have seriously damaged NATO’s reputation.  Most notably, on 28 August 1999, Radovan Stojkovski, LDP government minister without portfolio, his wife, his daughter and his driver were killed in a head-on collision caused by a NATO vehicle.  After the accident, a month-long row developed between the Macedonian government and KFOR in an effort to determine which side had the jurisdiction to try the Norwegian NATO officer responsible for the accident.  Only after considerable diplomatic pressure did Macedonia agree to hand him over to the Norwegian authorities.

Relations between Macedonia and the international community have further been strained by the West’s failure to deliver on the commitments of financial and other assistance made to Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis.  This has generated strong anti-Western sentiment in Macedonia.  The social and economic problems Macedonia is currently facing, greatly exacerbated by the burden shouldered during the Kosovo crisis, risk undermining the country’s stability.  The international community must strive to avoid this at all cost, as a destabilised Macedonia will inevitably have repercussions across the entire southern Balkan region. 

Particular attention must be paid to Macedonia’s delicate ethnic balance.  While some inter-ethnic tension exists and Macedonia’s various ethnic communities lead largely segregated, parallel lives, Macedonia is arguably the only multi-ethnic success story in the region, having so far avoided the deeply destructive experiences of most of its neighbours.  It is of utmost importance that the international community support Macedonia to ensure that relations among the country’s ethnic groups do not deteriorate as a result of economic and social problems, as a another ethnic conflict in the Balkans is unaffordable.

Skopje, 18 October 1999

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