Presidential elections in Macedonia: a struggle with identity

Josip Broz Titto had his presidential Residence “Biljana” built in Ohrid, Macedonia to enjoy the landscapes of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In the past four years, the villa with a wonderful view on Lake Ohrid was inhabited by Gjorge Ivanov, the President of the Former Yougoslavian Republic of Macedonia (or more easily “Macedonia”). On the 13th of April and the 27th of April the citizens of Macedonia, of which about 20 % is Albanian, will decide in two ballots who will move in the Presidential Residence. Three women express their opinion on the three male candidates.

Macedonian flag Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/Flammard

Macedonian flag
Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/Flammard

An election for your job

“If you want to have a job, you have to be a member of the party”, says Marja, a student in Finance and Economics in Skopje. The public sector expanded massively under the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE and so did the influence of politics on media, justice and economy. The heavy pressure of the government on ordinary citizens, the harsh economic situation and the mistrust between Albanians and Macedonians explain why the Presidential election is an existential question for many citizens. If you choose the wrong candidate, you might risk your job in the administration. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why many Macedonians will go to vote.

An election for change

Marja explains: “The President of Macedonia is a statue!” It is true that the Presidency has mainly symbolic tasks. His election is important because he serves as reference point for the political identity of the people: Macedonians will vote for a Macedonian candidate, Albanians will vote for the Albanian one. Also, the legislative elections were put on the same date because, to validate the second ballot of the elections, a participation of more than 40% is needed and some parties will use it to boycott the elections.

Stevo Pendarovski Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/MacedonianBoy

Stevo Pendarovski, candidate from the opposition party SODUS-SDSM
Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/MacedonianBoy

At the moment the main clash is between the nationalist party on power VMRO-DPMNE and the more liberal and EU friendly party in opposition SODUS-SDSM. “The actual President is Gjorge Ivanov from VMRO-DPMNE. This is the old party and I don’t see, what he wants to change. And, they set Macedonia above everything.” says Marja, “Stevo Pendarovski is from SODUS-SDSM who wants to improve the situation of young people. I think he can make a change.” Elena, a student in political sciences is less optimistic:”I don’t believe that another President will change a lot. But even a small change is better than nothing.” The debate among young students is not about if there is a need of change, but if this change is actually possible in Macedonia. Elena is frustrated: “ I blame the people! I blame the people who sell their vote for bread.”

An election for identity

Gjorge Ivanov, Macedonian president and candidate Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/Harald Dettenborn

Gjorge Ivanov, Macedonian president and candidate
Credits: Wikimedia Commons/CC/Harald Dettenborn

Jelana, who works in a bar in Ohrid, is one of the few Macedonians who is actually aware that there is an Albanian candidate. Iljaz Halimi from the DAP represents the Albanian minority that is tolerated but lives in constant tensions with the Macedonian majority. No one believes that he will have a chance to win the elections, but the question is who they will support in a second circle, as their coalition with VMRO-DPMNE split up facing the presidential elections. While Jelana cleans a glass she says: “The Albanians want to take over ever since. It is important to go vote because one of the candidates (Pendarovski) will let more Albanians in the Parliament and the other (Ivanov) will not.” The Albanians minority has many political rights but many prejudges from both sides implement a strong separation between Albanians and Macedonians. “We are the nation and they are an ethnical group. Gjorge will make this separation but maintain peace. The other candidate looks like a joke!”

An election in critique

Many people criticizes that there are a big inequalities between the party in power and the opposition in terms of available budget and TV-time. There was just one debate between the candidates and many hateful speeches. According to Marja, there is a strong pressure on citizens: “They are calling you to ask what you, what you think about politics. And I’m scared to say what I really think because I know that they have my number.” Then, at the end of our conversation, Elena adds: “They are trying to brainwash us every time.”

Marc Weilenmann