North Macedonia elects first woman president as center-left incumbents suffer historic losses

North Macedonia elects first woman president as center-left incumbents suffer historic losses

North Macedonia elected its first woman president Wednesday as the governing Social Democrats suffered historic losses in twin presidential and parliamentary elections.

Conservative-backed Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, a 70-year-old law professor, was declared the winner after receiving nearly 65% support with more than two-thirds of the vote counted in a presidential runoff. “Is there a bigger change than electing a woman as president?” Siljanovska-Davkova told party supporters. “I will stand with women in taking this great step forward, a step towards reform.”

Incumbent Stevo Pendarovski conceded after garnering just over 29% of the vote. Siljanovska-Davkova was backed by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which made sweeping gains on popular discontent over the country’s slow path toward European Union membership and its sluggish economy. 

A coalition led by VMRO-DPMNE was ahead with nearly 43% in the parliamentary election, while the Social Democrat-led coalition that has held power for the last seven years struggled to hold onto second place with 14.8.% – just ahead of a group of parties led by the ethnic Albanian minority party DUI.

Celebrations in the capital Skopje were muted by a thunderstorm that caused power outages. 

The conservative landslide win will be followed by power-sharing talks for the control of the 120-seat parliament. But Social Democrat leader Dimitar Kovachevski, who served as prime minister from 2022 until early this year, conceded his party’s defeat late Wednesday in the parliamentary election and announced that he would stand down after a new leader is selected by the party. 

Victory for Siljanovska-Davkova makes her the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial post of president since the country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The month-long campaign focused on North Macedonia’s slow progress toward joining the 27-nation EU, the rule of law, corruption, fighting poverty and tackling the country’s flat economic growth.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski headed a 22-party coalition called Your Macedonia that accused opponents of ineptitude and making humiliating compromises in trying to settle disputes with North Macedonia’s neighbors. Mickoski, 46, told supporters that the incoming conservative-led government would make fighting corruption its priority. 

“Every last person who committed a crime and committed corruption will be held accountable,” he said. “The people have taught the government its most important lesson and saved their country … We have regained hope and tonight we have reason to celebrate.” 

NATO member North Macedonia has been a candidate to join the EU since 2005, but was blocked by successive disputes with neighbors Greece and Bulgaria as well as slow progress on some reforms required for membership to advance.

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia are also seeking membership.

Skopje resident Gordana Gerasimovski said she was disappointed that the country had been waiting for so long to join the EU, but hoped for real progress now.

“We should have been part of the European Union a long time ago,” she said. “This is what we are lacking, but we hope that with time we will get to where we have wanted to be for so long.”

More than 2,300 domestic and international observers were authorized to monitor the election. [AP]

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