The presidential threshold must be re-examined

It is questionable whether the creators of the Constitution of Macedonia at the very beginning of the country’s independence, when it was being prepared, considered that the high turnout threshold for the election of head of state would be difficult to reach in the next decade, and will open up space for various political maneuvers and bargains. Almost 28 years have passed since then, so in the meantime the turnout threshold in the second round for the presidential elections was reduced from 50% to 40%.
However, in this pre-election period, it seems that there are fears of failure in the elections for the head of state as never before, especially after the bad experience with the referendum on the name eight months ago, when, mainly due to the opposition boycott, only around 37% of voters came out to vote.
Faced with the possibility of a new opposition boycott, these days Prime Minister and SDSM leader Zoran Zaev left the door open for a new intervention in the Constitution. In an interview with TV 21, Zaev said that he had already consulted Justice Minister Renata Treneska -Deskoska on this issue.
– I have consulted Deskoska, who the Minister of Justice in this government. She told me that by changing the Constitution, the president of the country can be elected in two ways – either to remove the turnout threshold, or to elect the next president in Parliament – said Zaev.
However, he believes that turnout of over 40 percent will be reached on May 5th, and that the fifth president of the country will be elected.
– There was 37 percent of turnout at the referendum, even with the painful question for the Macedonian ethnic community. Even with boycotting, the turnout threshold can be achieved. But I don’t think that the opposition will boycott – Zaev said.
He asked the opposition to take part in the second election round, in order not to provoke a new political instability in the country.
The risk that the country could be left without a president was first felt more intensely during the extraordinary elections in 2004, so it remains unclear to this day what kind of agreements were made between SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE in order to reach the even higher turnout of 50 percent, and for Branko Crvenkovski to be elected to the position. Already in the next elections in 2009, which were held along with local elections, it was shown that the turnout was reduced at the right time, because they were hardly reaching 42.6% up to the very last moment, although in the first round there were as many as seven candidates, which is the highest number of candidates so far. Five years later, the situation in terms of turnout changed drastically, given that in the second round, which was held along with snap general elections, 54.3 percent of registered voters came out to vote. Then Gjorge Ivanov was re-elected to the post and defeated Stevo Pendarovski, but the then-opposition did not recognize the presidential election result, nor the result of the parallel general elections.
The analysts and professors we have consulted emphasize the fact that in the first cycles of direct presidential elections, the turnout threshold, although it was higher, was not such a big problem as it is now. They say that the turnout threshold is related to the legitimacy of one of the holders of the executive power, so the current solution is essentially a good one, but the problem is in the current political elites that with their policies contributed to violating the credibility of the office. Therefore, a more comprehensive debate about the model of presidential elections is needed to avoid recurring electoral cycles for the country’s formally highest office. However, any changes to the model, regardless of whether the reduction or deletion of the turnout threshold or the election in parliament would be reduced, will have to be done through constitutional changes, so that political consensus will have to be achieved beforehand.
The possible modification of the model would be a long process, which could last for more than half a year, which, in turn, is the longest possible period in which the parliament speaker could be the acting president. Accordingly, in the event of a failure in the upcoming elections, the entire election process will have to be repeated as soon as possible, but there would be no guarantee that the repeated elections will be successful…
The presidential candidate of VMRO-DPMNE, Gordana Siljanovska- Davkova, as a constitutional law professor, opposes the electing of president in Parliament. She believes that it is necessary to eliminate the turnout threshold in the second round, while for the possible election of president in the Parliament, she believes that she would turn into a political bargain. At a central rally in Skopje, she called for massive turnout in the presidential elections and, as she said, not allowing the ruling majority to change the Constitution.
– If we don’t reach 40 percent turnout, then they will change the Constitution. It won’t be difficult for them. This way they will let the president to be elected in Parliament. Then the president will be elected by bargaining, and guess who will be elected president then, Siljanovska said.
Germany, Italy, Greece, Albania, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Kosovo, etc. are examples of countries whose presidents are elected by the Parliament. However, in many European countries, presidents are elected in direct elections, starting with France, Poland, Portugal, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Cyprus, Turkey, up to Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia as countries in our region. In some of these countries, there is no turnout threshold for presidential elections, with the most striking example being France, where the candidate that gets more votes in the second round, wins. There is a turnout threshold in other countries, but significantly lower than the Macedonian one. The Venice Commission also points to Macedonia as a rare example of a country with such a high turnout threshold in the second round of presidential elections. The reports of the observation missions during the elections in the country also have recommendations for re-examining the turnout threshold.

Aleksandra M. Mitevska