North Macedonia uncertainty a concern for Greece
Despite the intense reactions to the Prespes name deal inside Greece, it is clear that the agreement with North Macedonia will be upheld regardless of which party wins the next general election here. Governing SYRIZA obviously champions the deal, touts its benefits in every possible manner and is promoting it whenever it gets the chance for as long as it can. Opposition New Democracy, meanwhile, is a party that recognizes the need for institutional continuity and has often demonstrated its ability to step up to its historic responsibilities.
However, the sailing is not so smooth in the fragile democracy next door. After the failure of the referendum and the approval of the name deal by a narrow margin that was mainly the result of international pressure, the deep rift dividing the Balkan nation is also reflected in a profound and prevalent sense of uncertainty.
The first round of presidential elections, which took place on Sunday, saw professor Stevo Pendarovski, who is supported by the government coalition, and his rival Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, also an academic, who is supported by the nationalist opposition, end nearly head-to-head in the 42 percentile range. Siljanovska has been critical of the agreement with Greece and has stood in favor of a renegotiation of its terms, though this does not mean that she will try to obstruct its implementation as she has frequently suggested that she will respect the arrangement.
For the election process to be valid in the second round, however, there needs to be a turnout of at least 40 percent of the electorate, something that cannot be taken for granted after just 41 percent cast a ballot last Sunday. Turnout could possible fall below the threshold as the country’s sizable Albanian population will no longer have a candidate running in the May 5 vote. The Albanian candidate came out a distant third in the first round.
If it proves impossible to elect a president because of low turnout, the highest office in the country will be filled for the next six months by the parliament speaker, Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian. That would only serve to further complicate an already fuzzy situation.
For Athens, this uncertainty is worrisome. It comes at a time when Greece has every reason to see the implementation of the agreement move fast, in order to strengthen bilateral relations further and consolidate its position as a pillar of Balkan stability, to expand its military, political and economic influence in the neighboring country, and to fend off other insidious attempts to gain ascendancy in the region.