North Macedonia’s opposition VMRO-DPMNE party notches major election wins

Right-wing party secures a parliamentary majority, and its candidate has become the country’s first female president.

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova speaks into a microphone as she celebrates her election win, one hand raised in gesture.
Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova has won the presidency over incumbent Stevo Pendarovski [Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo]

North Macedonia has elected its first female president, ushering in a night of big wins for the country’s right-wing opposition.

Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, a 70-year-old law professor, won the presidency with approximately 65 percent of the vote, according to polls released late on Wednesday.

She faced incumbent Stevo Pendarovski of the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) party in a run-off race for the largely ceremonial role.

Her win echoed other gains made by the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party on Wednesday in the parliamentary elections. Pendarovski and the leader of the SDSM, Dimitar Kovacevski, conceded defeat in both the parliamentary and presidential races later that night.

“I congratulate our political opponent VMRO-DPMNE with this victory in the elections,” Kovacevski said in a statement.

The VMRO-DPMNE’s victory is thought to signal voter frustration with corruption and North Macedonia’s stalled efforts to join the European Union.

On Wednesday, Siljanovska-Davkova celebrated her historic victory as a sign of shifting times.

“Is there a bigger change than electing a woman as president?” she told her supporters. “I will stand with women in taking this great step forward, a step towards reform.”

Hristijan Mickoski raises a fist in the air from behind a podium as he celebrates election-night results on a stage backed by screens.
Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of the opposition centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party, celebrates the election results in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Wednesday [Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo]

Parliamentary gains

Wednesday’s election results put an end to nearly seven years of parliamentary leadership by the SDSM’s centre-left coalition.

“The result is disappointing, and this is a big blow to SDSM,” Kovacevski, the SDSM’s leader and a former prime minister, said in a news conference.

He also announced he planned to step down as the party’s leader once a replacement is found, as part of an overhaul of the SDSM.

In the parliamentary race, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party snagged 42 percent of the votes, with 72 percent counted so far.

But the ruling SDSM struggled to hang onto second place. It netted 14 percent of the votes, just ahead of a coalition led by the ethnic Albanian minority party, DUI.

In downtown Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, supporters of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE gathered to celebrate the election victory, though the festivities were slightly dampened by a rumbling thunderstorm.

“We have made it. Macedonia won. This is a historic victory of the people,” VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski told the crowd.

A bearded man in a black tank top raises both hands in the air as he celebrates with VMRO-DPMNE supporters in the streets of North Macedonia's capital. One fellow supporter blows into a horn-like instrument.
Supporters of the opposition centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party celebrate the results in Skopje, North Macedonia, on May 8 [Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo]

EU membership in the balance

Wednesday’s victories for the right-wing nationalist party set the stage for tension with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria, which, in turn, threatens to sputter already-slow EU accession talks.

North Macedonia’s road to EU membership started in 2005, but progress was blocked for years by Greece in a dispute over the country’s name. That was resolved in 2018 when the country added “North” to its name.

However, Mickoski, the president of VMRO-DPMNE, which heads a 22-party coalition called Your Macedonia, refuses to acknowledge the new title.

Mickoski has also promised to maintain a hard line with Bulgaria over linguistic and historical issues. That tussle, in which Bulgaria has demanded that Skopje recognise a tiny Bulgarian minority, has seen Sofia block EU accession talks.

Now that the VMRO-DPMNE has secured a majority in the parliamentary election, Mickoski will likely be the country’s next prime minister.

The governing centre-left SDSM had pinned its hopes on unlocking talks with the EU and appeasing Bulgaria. It tried to amend the constitution to acknowledge the Bulgarian minority but lacked the numbers to push the motion through parliament.

“These elections will practically set the future of Macedonia: if we will move towards a progressive society, to the EU, or if we are headed to some past time when we had isolation and ethnic conflicts,” warned SDSM chief Kovacevski.

Powerful populism

However, the left-leaning SDSM party has struggled to maintain momentum since a heavy first-round loss in the presidential poll, with Mickoski’s populist agenda proving powerful.

Siljanovska-Davkova received 40 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential race on April 24, unexpectedly leaving the incumbent Pendarovski a distant second with 19.9 percent.

Mickoski has pledged to create tens of thousands of jobs and reverse poor economic growth and soaring inflation. North Macedonia has lost about 10 percent of its population to emigration over the past 20 years.

The VMRO-DPMNE president has also adopted increasingly aggressive language towards the DUI – the country’s largest Albanian party – stirring anxieties over fragile interethnic relations.

In 2001, NATO pulled North Macedonia back from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian rebellion and promised faster integration into the EU and NATO.

The country of 1.83 million joined the military alliance in 2020, but impatience over its slow progress towards EU membership has been growing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies