Voters punished the government, but did not reward the opposition

Aside from the “Scandinavian” atmosphere during the voting, there were not many reasons for celebrating Sunday night either at the “White Palace” in downtown Skopje, or at the Hilton Hotel on the Vardar quay. However, there were celebrations – both at the headquarters of Gordana Siljanovska, because of the narrow difference and advantage in several major municipalities that the opposition realized in the first round of the sixth presidential elections; and at Stevo Pendarovski’s camp, because of the modest leadership in the opponent’s opposition from VMRO-DPMNE.
One of the paradoxes is that, despite the dramatic approach of the opposition to the ruling parties, the comparison with the results of the last election cycle, that is, from the local elections in 2017, shows that VMRO-DPMNE did not move even a millimeter in terms of the support the party received in the first elections, which after a decade of governance, this year participated as the opposition, and during the period when Nikola gruevski was still the party leader. On Sunday, VMRO-DPMNE virtually voted only the faithful party membership, given that the presidential candidate Siljanovska won just over 319 thousand votes or about 17 thousand fewer votes than VMRO-DPMNE won a year and a half ago in the advisory lists. Thus, the new leader of VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickovski, passed the first election test with a more modest balance than his predecessor Gruevski in 2017, that is, in the period before his departure from the party top.
Therefore, if SDSM in the previous elections led with about 85 thousand votes, now the difference with VMRO-DPMNE is reduced to less than five thousand. When added to the fact that the SDSM and DUI acted as coalition in these elections, it is evident that the very low turnout in the first presidential round is generally a result of the abstention of voters who are more inclined towards the political left and who manifested their protest against certain policies of the current ruling headquarters by not coming out to vote. This made the big downfall of the ruling parties inevitable. Despite the symbolic advantage they retained at the national level, SDSM and DUI lost nearly 196,000 votes compared to the last elections when they won about 421,000 and 90,000 votes in the advisory lists.
The result, on the basis of the referendum on the name of the September 30, 2018, suggests that the fall of the ruling majority actually starts after the Prespa Agreement has been reached, that is, this document is not the main reason for the voters’ dissatisfaction. But the revolt is starting to fester during the period of implementation of the agreement with Greece, when the government was forced to a series of concessions and frequent suspensions of the rule of law rule, promoting opposite principles of impunity and selectivity, in order to achieve the required majority for passing of the constitutional changes, and in the last period for resolving the status of the SPO. Gruevski’s escape from justice, the April 27 amnesty, the incursion into the Criminal Code in order to reduce the penalties for certain cases that came out of the so-called “bombs”, and in parallel the opening of a series of cases of nepotism and conflict of interests and dissatisfaction with local authorities in certain municipalities, disagreements between the coalition parties and frequent excuses for DUI… are probably part of the reasons that drastically reflected on, above all, SDSM’s ratings. The free fall, obviously, could not prevent either the start of membership in NATO or the Law on Languages, for which DUI hopes most of all.
On April 21, about 756,000 voters took part in the presidential elections, as opposed to over 650,000 voters participating in the referendum on the name, held in the atmosphere of VMRO-DPMNE’s boycott, while the opposition from the Albanian camp (Besa and the Alliance for Albanians) was included in the referendum campaign. On Sunday, Blerim Reka, behind whom the two opposition Albanian parties stood, won nearly 80,000 votes, winning impressive support in the municipalities of the east of the country. These figures are indicative of the fact that the collapse of the ruling majority, which for the referendum mobilized approximately the same number of voters as for the local elections, started about half a year ago, not in the period when the Prespa Agreement was reached.
One of the paradoxes is that Pendarovski entered the second round with more votes (over 326 thousand) in the previous presidential elections, and ranked second behind Gjorge Ivanov, than he enters now as first in the finals with Siljanovska. Also, in the early general elections in 2016, the first (Skopje) constituency, where the bearer of the list was Pendarovski, was the only one in which SDSM won more than the mandates of the then ruling VMRO-DPMNE (ten versus eight). It was a prelude to SDSM’s big election victory in Skopje in the next local elections. The then ruling party won all the municipalities in the capital, including the most savage strongholds of the right-wing, such as Gazi Baba, Kisela Voda, Aerodrom, Butel, while Petre Shilegov became Skopje mayor in the first round.
On Sunday, SDSM, as in the “old opposition days”, again faced defeat in all these municipalities, so that only the traditional bastions Karpos and Centar remained, while DUI managed to defend the party’s “honor” in Cair, where Pendarovski led with about 2,300 votes ahead of Blerim Reka, while in Saraj the advantage of the ruling candidate is about 650 votes. The figures from all the Skopje municipalities actually secured victory for Siljanovska with about 660 votes more than Pendarovski.
The results of the first half of the electoral contest for the next head of state, compared with previous election cycles, suggest that voters, mainly through a silent boycott, punished the ruling parties, but did not reward the opposition. This twist came exactly two years after the dramatic shift of power on Ilinden Street, which took place almost half a year after the last general elections, preceded by the violent events in Parliament on April 27, 2017. Accordingly, until the next general elections, if they are held in their regular term, there is another year and a half remaining. As to how the political processes in the country will continue, as well as the integration processes, one of the decisive factors is the outcome of the second round of the presidential elections. Whether they will succeed and who will be the next president – Pendarovski or Siljanovska, whose possible move in the presidential residence will mean continuing the cohabitation between the government and the head of state, as well as in the last two years of the second term of President Gjorge Ivanov, who leaves office on May 12.
The incredibly low turnout on Sunday brought a lot of uncertainty as to whether on May 5, when there is one candidate less, a 40 percent turnout could be reached and make these elections successful. This time, practically, the votes that Reka won in the first round will be decisive, aside from the fact that he repeated several times that he would not give instructions to his voters about voting in the second round. From this aspect, Pendarovski is in the lead, given that Reka won votes in predominantly Macedonian areas, while in the municipalities where the majority is the Albanian community, the support for Siljanovska was insignificant, despite her attempts at the end of the campaign to flirt with and win over this voting body, with the evident logistic of the Alliance and Besa candidate, Blerim Reka. Whether the turnout threshold will be reached on May 5 will certainly be influenced by the possible greater mobilization of undecided voters, as well as the behavior of DUI, which should assess what is of greater interest to the country – to elect a legitimate president, or for the party to have their own member as acting head of state.

Aleksandra M. Mitevska