Constitutional Change and EU Integration: Key Issues of the Presidential Election in North Macedonia

Beograd_240125_Željko Šajn 04
Source: Kosovo Online

Written for Kosovo Online by Zeljko Sajn

The seventh presidential elections in North Macedonia will likely be concluded on May 8th, in the second round, alongside parliamentary elections. The main issue, according to the presidential candidates themselves as well as the leaders of all parties vying for power, is the amendment of the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia and its further path towards European integration.

The hypocritical policy of the West towards this country regarding promises of its accession to the European Union, as surveys show, has caused the people to lean more towards the opposition's program than towards supporting the current government. As is known, the Prespa Agreement changed the Constitution of Macedonia and adopted a new name for the country – North Macedonia. This was a condition for Euro-Atlantic integration. The country managed to become the 30th member of NATO, but its place in the European Union was blocked by Bulgaria, thus the promise that by changing the Constitution and the country's name it would become a member of the European Union was not fulfilled. The European Union supported its member's request and, led by Germany and France, offered a solution for this neighborhood dispute. Thus, North Macedonia was once again conditioned to change its highest state act to incorporate the Bulgarian people as a constitutive element. However, the pressure to amend the RNM Constitution served the Albanian parties to put forward their demands regarding the Constitution amendment and further shake the political scene of North Macedonia.

The current president and candidate for a new five-year term, Stevo Pendarovski, supported by the SDSM coalition, highlights European integration as a priority, pointing out that the country's place is in the Western bloc, as it is the bright future for the youth, so they have the opportunity to professionally thrive in their own country. Pendarovski was the coordinator of the Macedonian government for the entry of North Macedonia into the North Atlantic Alliance.

On the other hand, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, supported by the largest Macedonian opposition parliamentary party VMRO-DPMNE, is measuring strength with Pendarovski for the second time. Although the people were more inclined towards Pendarovski in the previous elections, according to current surveys, Prof. Siljanovska Davkova now has a much greater chance of taking the presidential seat. Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of the VMRO-DPMNE party, whose Davkova is the presidential candidate, believes that the elections will achieve a six-figure victory. It should be emphasized that the VMRO-DPMNE party is strongly opposed to amending the Constitution again. Although neither the party nor its presidential candidate is against European integration, they are principled in preserving the dignity of the Macedonian nation and its identity. Thus, they do not want to agree to a Constitution change under pressure from Bulgarians and Europe but want to follow the voice of the people and preserve the identity and language of their nation.

Similar ideology regarding the preservation of the state's dignity and the identity of the Macedonian people is shared by the mayors of the Kumanovo municipality and the Karpoš municipality, Maksim Dimitrievski and Stevče Jokimovski.

Contrarily, the Albanian blocks in power and opposition advocate for a Constitution change, which would, among incorporating the Bulgarian demand, also change the election of the president – instead of the president being elected through democratic popular elections, this important issue would be resolved in the Assembly. Although Albanian parties in power and opposition have their candidates for the presidency, there is an agreement not to accept the formation of a new government after parliamentary elections until a secure Constitution change is ensured to incorporate their demands.

The U.S. Ambassador Angela Ageler supported the swift amendment of the RNM Constitution, stating that this step does not have to wait for the formation of a government. By law, the so-called transitional government, led by Talat Dzaferi, has the role of only preparing elections in the country. Nonetheless, the U.S. ambassador says that in North Macedonia, everything is possible, including a Constitution change under the leadership of a “technical government.” She also emphasized that she would pay attention to whether foreign forces are involved in the elections and what impact they have.

For now, no one has put forward arguments about foreign interference in the presidential elections in North Macedonia, except that the U.S. announced sanctions against the mayor of Karpoš, Jokimovski, and his family for corruption right before the elections. However, the DIK of North Macedonia pointed out that Jokimovski still has the right to fight for the presidency, regardless of being sanctioned by the U.S. federal administration.

One of the presidential contenders is also Dr. Arben Taravari, a representative of the Albanian opposition, who accepted the candidacy after consultations with Albin Kurti in Pristina. Remember that, in the last quarter of last year, Kurti was declared the president of all Albanians in Tetovo, along with the Albanian anthem and the map of the so-called Greater Albania, for which Kurti obviously and unscrupulously advocates. Taravari announced that if he becomes the president of North Macedonia, he will exclude North Macedonia from the “Open Balkan” initiative, which is also Kurti's goal, who opposed the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama over this issue. Contrary to this thesis, Kurti does not criticize the Berlin Process, which stems from the German initiative from the time of Angela Merkel. Thus, Kurti's followers in North Macedonia are very openly threatening the survival of the “Open Balkan” initiative, supporting, on the other hand, the German creation towards the Balkans, which is in opposition to the positions of the USA.

If a Constitution change were achieved to elect the president in the Assembly by a two-thirds or simple majority, it would be an act of pure political trade, bringing the Albanian ethnic group closer to the presidential function in this country. It would be another step towards the Albanian ethnic goals advocated by William Walker, who provoked the bombing of Yugoslavia twenty-five years ago under the pretext of protecting from a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo.

In the second round of elections on May 8th, the people will choose the leader who will guide them through the challenges the country faces on its way to a brighter future. Parliamentary elections will also be held then. However, pressures for constitutional changes could trigger a parliamentary crisis and lead to the failure to form a new government.