Right wing victory in North Macedonia presidential and parliamentary elections

Billboards and other advertisements in Skopje promoting right-wing presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova under the slogans “Macedonia proud again” and “Gordana for president!” (the name Gordana means “proud”). Photo by Global Voices, CC BY 3.0

Right wing populist political party VMRO-DPMNE won a sweeping victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections in North Macedonia, held May 8, 2024. According to official results published by the State Election Commission (SEC), their presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova won over 65 percent of the votes, while the party won 58 out of 120 seats in parliament.

Siljanovska Davkova is the first woman to hold the position of democratically elected president since North Macedonia declared independence in 1992.

Apart from advocating female representation through slogans such as “Time for woman president,” women's rights were not prominent issue in Siljanovska Davkova's campaign, as VMRO-DPMNE takes positions against gender equality, using rhetoric of defense of “traditional values.” When they were in power during the state capture period (2006–2017) they enacted numerous laws including one against abortion, and, while in the opposition, they obstructed the introduction of sexuality education.

The main executive power in the country is held by the office of the prime minister, while the office of president has limited but important competences as head of state, i.e. the diplomatic representative of the country and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Even though some participants in the elections complained of irregularities, they all admitted that they were on a scale that doesn't affect the overall outcome. International observers noted that elections were competitive, “but marred by negative rhetoric with nationalistic slogans, as well as shortcomings in the legislation and insufficient oversight of campaign finances.”

Landslide win for right-wing populists

The SEC announced that the turnout for the parliamentary elections was 53 percent of 1.8 million registered voters. The presidential elections had lower turnout of 46 percent, as some parties whose candidates lost in the first round of the presidential elections openly or overtly promoted a boycott of the two finalists. Nevertheless, the necessary quorum of 40 percent was reached.

According to results announced by the SEC, VMRO-DPMNE, which is closely allied to Hungarian right-wing Fidesz party, led by populist prime minister Viktor Orbán, won 58 out of 120 seats in parliament. Orbán was among the first to congratulate them on the victory.

VMRO-DPMNE ran the campaign based on stoking Macedonian nationalism, using MAGA-sounding slogans such as “[Make] Macedonia proud again.”

The ruling SDSM, which suffered from internal fractioning similar to other center-left parties in recent decades, won only 19 seats, a major failure considering they previously held 46. Their reputation was tarnished by unfulfilled promises made during the 2016 Colorful Revolution to bring justice and end corruption, as well as scandals related to dysfunctional institutions.

Ethnic Macedonian opposition parties blamed the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the ethnic Albanian coalition partner in the government, for much of the country's problems with corruption, while promoting the conspiracy theory of “Albanization.” They fueled the outrage and indignation of the non-Albanian population by criticizing the biggest ruling party, the multiethnic Social Democrats (SDSM) for subservience to DUI and to the European Union, claiming succumbing to “Bulgarian dictates” to change the constitution is treason of Macedonian national interests.

DUI ran a separate campaign which included reaching out to other smaller ethnic communities, and won 19 seats. Their leader Ali Ahmeti implied they intend to stay in government, for the sake of the “stability in the country.” A coalition of several ethnic Albanian opposition parties called VLEN (“Worth”), which includes dissenting former DUI officials, won 13 seats.

A breakaway SDSM fraction that ran as new party called ZNAM (I know”), which used populist rhetoric appealing to more conservative audiences, won 6 seats in the national assembly.

Openly pro-Kremlin neo-Stalinist political party Levica (“The Left”) won six seats in the new parliament, an increase from two. While one of their slogans was “No government without Levica,” aspiring to be part of the new government, it is unclear whether they would be invited in the new majority by VMRO-DPMNE.

Several other openly pro-Russian political parties — United Macedonia, Rodina and Desna (“The Right”) — which are on the extreme right of the political spectrum, together won less than 0.33 percent of the votes, without any seats.

The cost of the electoral campaign is at least EUR 15 million, the majority of which comes from public money, as the changes to the Electoral Code voted for by all major political parties enabled them to distribute state budget funds via the SEC to media and other service providers for election expenditures. Candidates also used money from donors, and contributions in kind such as transport for participants in rallies.

Participants consider the elections fair and ‘dignified’

Even before the SEC announced the final results, incumbent Stevo Pendarovski held a press conference, thanked all participants in the electoral process, and congratulated his opponents, wishing them successful work in the next four and five years.

Billboard in Skopje promoting incumbent president Stevo Pendarovski with the slogan “Our president: Stevo.” Photo by Global Voices, CC BY 3.0.

Pendarovski concluded:

Мојот концепт на мултиетничка Македонија целосно интегрирана во евроатлантските структури, денеска, за жал, не доби мнозинска поддршка од граѓаните. Јас сум длабоко убеден дека само така Македонија може да биде демократска и проспиретна држава.

Sadly, my concept of multiethnic Macedonia that would be completely integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures didn't receive support of the voters today. I still deeply believe that is the only way for Macedonia to be democratic and prosperous country.

In her much longer victory speech, President Elect Gordana Siljanovska Davkova stated she will surround herself with respectable, “subversive and tough” women in her presidential cabinet.

Има ли поголема победа од тоа да бидам прва жена претседател? Ќе се опкружам со силни жени околу мене. Не се согласувам дека гласовите сум ги добила со набој на национализам, а тоа ќе го докажам што во мојот кабинет ќе вклучам и Албанци, Турци и други националности.

Is there a greater victory than being the first woman president? I will surround myself with strong women. I disagree that I won the votes with a nationalist charge, and I will prove that by including Albanians, Turks and other nationalities in my cabinet.

She also praised the other opposition position parties who showed political skills by providing space for deals and coalition negotiations after the completion of the elections.

Siljanovska Davkova gave credit to the media for professional coverage and to her opponent, noting that their TV debates were held with poise and statesmanship.  She stated that she will act as president of all citizens, of all ethnic groups, from all political parties and those who are not in parties, and will employ experts from different backgrounds. “That's why my program was translated into all [local] languages.”

At the end of her press conference, Siljanovska Davkova said she couldn't receive courtesy congratulatory call from her competitor Pendarovski because she forgot her mobile phone at home.

The next to give an official statement during election night was former Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski of the SDSM. He congratulated all participants for the “fair and free elections,” which he attributed to the increased freedom of media and democratic advancement provided by their government. Bucking Social Democrat tradition, he didn't immediately resign due to losing the elections, but announced a process of deep reforms within the party.

Billboard promoting Hristijan Mickoski, leader of VMRO-DPMNE under the slogans “Macedonia yours again!” and “The changes in your hands!” Photo by Global Voices, CC BY 3.0.

The president of right-wing VMRO-DPMNE Hristijan Mickovski also held a press conference declaring their victory, which started with his supporters singing the turbofolk song “Biser balkanski” (“Pearl of  the Balkans”), which includes lines about reclaiming parts of geographic region of Macedonia from neighboring countries.

Contrary to the ethno-nationalist rhetoric used before and during official campaign, he reiterated several times that the new government will serve the citizens of all ethnicities. He also said that they learn from the mistakes of their opponents, and cautioned his party members not to abuse power, least they suffer the same fate as SDSM.

Political life in North Macedonia in the next weeks will focus on the forming of the new government. Of particular interest is whether both the new president and prime minister will back down from anti-Bulgarian and anti-EU rhetoric and support required constitutional changes, or plunge the country into a new period of the political limbo that characterized the previous tenure of VMRO-DPMNE in power.

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