Supporter of North Macedonia Name Change Wins Presidency

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FILE -- A statue depicting Alexander the Great stands in Skopje, Macedonia, on Feb. 24, 2018. Overcoming Russian meddling in the Balkans and intensive domestic opposition, Greek lawmakers on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, cast a wrenching vote to set aside historical antagonisms and recognize the newly renamed nation of North Macedonia, in a rare victory for the European Union and NATO. (Akos Stiller/The New York Times)

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Surk

c.2019 New York Times News Service

 

 

SKOPJE, North Macedonia — In a presidential runoff, voters in North Macedonia elected a government-backed candidate who plans to bring the country into NATO under its new name over a rival who had vowed to challenge the name change if elected.

 

With nearly all ballots counted, Stevo Pendarovski, a joint candidate of the governing Social Democrats and 30 smaller parties, had about 52% of the vote, compared with about 45% for his opponent, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova.

 

Pendarovski, 56, has defended a recent deal with Greece to make the change, enabling what was the Republic of Macedonia, one of Europe’s poorest countries, to move forward with membership in NATO and possibly in the European Union.

 

“The agreement is a good agreement, a necessary agreement,” Pendarovski said in an interview at the governing party’s headquarters in Skopje, just before he declared victory.

 

Siljanovska Davkova, 63, has opposed the agreement and was backed by the main conservative opposition party.

 

Despite voter discontent and election fatigue in a country that has held balloting every year since 2016, turnout was just over 46%, according to the State Election Commission. There had been concern that turnout might not reach the 40% threshold needed to make the result valid, forcing another runoff vote.

 

Siljanovska Davkova campaigned as a vocal critic of the agreement with Greece, which had long blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO. Greece has a northern territory by that name, and had long feared that a neighboring country also called Macedonia might one day stake a claim there.

 

A constitutional law expert and a professor at the law school in the capital, Skopje, Siljanovska Davkova initially ran as an independent, but then picked up the support of the main conservative party, known as VMRO-DPMNE.

 

She has called the name deal, the Prespa Agreement, “a bad solution” that infringes on the identity of the Balkan nation of 2 million people, saying, “I will use all legal means to prove that it is not in accordance with international law.”

Conceding defeat Sunday night, she said, “He won the battle, but we haven’t lost the fight.”