Presidential Elections in the Republic of North Macedonia 2024: The “Ivanovization” of the Presidential Function?

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly conducts analyses of events spanning the Middle East, the Balkans, and global affairs. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in the Republic of North Macedonia ahead of the first round of presidential elections, which will take place on 24 April 2024. From the comprehensive analysis titled "Presidential Elections in the Republic of North Macedonia 2024: The “Ivanovization” of the Presidential Function?" we highlight the most important and interesting parts.

Presidential Elections in the Republic of North Macedonia 2024:

The “Ivanovization” of the Presidential Function?


On 24 April  2024, the Republic of North Macedonia (RNM) will hold the seventh presidential election since declaring independence on 8 September 1991.

There are 1,814,317 eligible voters, while the total population of North Macedonia is 1,836,713 residents plus 260,606 non-residents. The entire country constitutes one electoral unit.

Seven candidates will compete for the presidential position: ● Stevo Pendarovski, the joint candidate of the ruling SDSM (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia) and the “For European Future” coalition ● Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, the candidate of the opposition right-wing VMRO-DPMNE (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) with the support of several coalition parties ● Bujar Osmani, the candidate of DUI (Democratic Union for Integration) and the “European Front” coalition ● Arben Taravari from the “Worth” (Vlen) coalition ● Maksim Dimitrievski from the “I Know” Movement (ZNAM – For Our Macedonia) ● Biljana Vankovska Cvetkovska from the The Left party ● Stevčo Jakimovski from the coalition “Bravely for Macedonia” (Citizens Option for North Macedonia).

The second round of presidential elections will take place on 8 May 2024, alongside the regular parliamentary elections.

Pendarovski stands alone against all

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova was carefully chosen in the laboratory of VMRO-DPMNE, and her public appearances reflect the recognizable influence of Nikola Gruevski and Gjorge Ivanov. Gruevski acts as the political mentor behind Siljanovska Davkova's platform, while Ivanov serves as her inspiration. Despite her credentials as both a professor and a doctor of law, Siljanovska Davkova does not acknowledge the constitutional name of the Republic of North Macedonia, although she submitted her candidacy for the presidency to the State Election Commission of the Republic of North Macedonia. She remains ambiguous on several other issues, attempting to curry favour with voters by offering not new but rather timeworn policies reminiscent of Gjorge Ivanov. Siljanovska Davkova also maintains that the Prespa Agreement remains an open question and does not acknowledge the constitutional name Republic of North Macedonia.

Publicly, Siljanovska Davkova advocates for a female president, while Bujar Osmani and Arben Taravari argue that it's time for an Albanian to assume the presidency of RNM. However, these candidates are focused on misguided themes, emphasizing gender or ethnic principles instead of advocating for a future president who represents all citizens. Notably, Bujar Osmani proposes that the president of the country should be elected by the parliament in the future, a move that would allow DUI to perpetuate its standard policy of conditioning and thereby increase its leverage over the prominent political figures in the Macedonian political landscape.

The speeches of most candidates convey a clear message: their participation in the elections aims to prevent Stevo Pendarovski from advancing to the second round of presidential elections.

Analysts caution about the role of the six opposing candidates campaigning against the incumbent president Pendarovski, aiming to prevent his entry into the second round of presidential elections, primarily originating from centres that oppose and contest North Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration. Behind-the-scenes events in the Macedonian political scene confirm that a portion of Albanians still closely collaborate with VMRO-DPMNE and maintain communication/cooperation with Nikola Gruevski.

Stevo Pendarovski holds an advantage over Siljanovska Davkova and other candidates because he represents a broad political and ethnic spectrum. His political program builds on the progress achieved so far, pushing for continued accelerated reforms initiated by the current government, aiming for full EU membership while fostering interethnic relations and enhancing North Macedonia's international reputation. The President of RNM should be a politician who commands the utmost respect, as their influence in society and the state hinges on their reputation and authority, given their constrained constitutional powers. However, statements made by Siljanovska Davkova and some other candidates hint at their potential inclination to represent only a portion of RNM's citizens, rather than all citizens of North Macedonia, which is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multilingual state.

The upcoming presidential elections in the Republic of North Macedonia present another opportunity to potentially disrupt the country's Euro-Atlantic path, which is particularly perilous due to geopolitical upheavals in Europe and globally, further escalating this danger.

Elections for personality and program

The forthcoming presidential elections in the Republic of North Macedonia represent a renewed confrontation between two opposing political blocs: the centre-left SDSM and the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE, alongside an intra-Albanian political struggle involving the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and other parties, enjoying strong support from Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti (LVV). Presidential elections are unique in that they heavily rely on the personalities representing the parties/coalitions and their programs.

The coalition aligned with SDSM bolsters the presidential candidacy of Stevo Pendarovski, as it includes all ethnic communities residing in North Macedonia (including Macedonians, Albanians, Bosniaks, Serbs, Turks, Vlachs, Roma, among others), underscoring a proven track record on the political stage within RNM and the broader region.

It's crucial for the RNM that individuals who obstruct or refuse to acknowledge the Prespa Agreement, which has brought peace, stability, and prosperity to the country, and those who reject its constitutional name, Republic of North Macedonia, face sanctions and are placed on the “blacklist” of the US administration. In response to statements, obstructions, and actions contrary to the Prespa and Ohrid agreements, US President Joseph Biden signed an executive order in 2021 freezing assets and banning entry to the US for individuals working against the Prespa Agreement and the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It is important to note that the State Department clarified that the executive order applies not only to individuals in Western Balkan countries jeopardizing the Prespa Agreement but also to those in other countries. Executive Order[2] 14033 enables sanctions against anyone undermining the stability of the Western Balkans, wherever they may be, provided they meet the relevant criteria. The Greek parliament has yet to ratify the memoranda related to the Prespa Agreement.

Russian influence and influence of neighbouring countries

Russian influence in North Macedonia has diminished since the illegal invasion of Ukraine. The peak of Russian influence was evident in September 2018 during the referendum on the new constitutional name - Republic of North Macedonia.

During the last presidential elections in 2019, Russia had a clear favourite among the presidential candidates, - VMRO-DPMNE candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, against Stevo Pendarovski, who was seen as anti-Russian and pro-Western.

Russian influence primarily operates through social media channels. Over the past year, there have been serious cyber attacks on vital institutions, various organizations, schools, and even the presidential office on two occasions, as well as banks and agencies housing critical files and data on Macedonian citizens.

Presently, Russian influence is not as pronounced as it was in 2018 and 2019. Nevertheless, it is anticipated to intensify as 8 May 2024 approaches, marking the second round of presidential elections and simultaneous parliamentary elections. Russia has its favourites in North Macedonia's political scene, as pro-Russian-oriented political parties and individuals operate alongside pro-Western counterparts.

The Republic of North Macedonia expelled 18 Russian diplomats with diplomatic status over the past two and a half years, identified as agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Russia's strategic interest lies in preventing any newly emerged state in the former Yugoslavia from joining the NATO alliance.

In discussions about Russian and Chinese influence in North Macedonia last year, it was noted that the 2024 elections would be targets of disinformation campaigns from the Russian side, possibly also involving China. This has occurred with somewhat less intensity than expected. There are social media platforms with links to Russia and affiliated groups that pose challenges in fully investigating their connections. These platforms propagate and defend Russian national interests while opposing Macedonian interests due to North Macedonia's Western orientation, which Russia opposes. All neighbouring states strive to exert their influence and have their representatives in North Macedonia's political landscape.

Without the war in Ukraine, Russian interference in Macedonian elections would likely be more intense. Since the start of the Ukraine invasion, Russians have been intervening in several key elections in Europe over the past two years, including those in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The “Ivanovization” of the presidential function

The International Institute IFIMES considers the upcoming presidential elections in the Republic of North Macedonia to be of exceptional importance for the country's future. These elections will determine the continuation of positive political processes and changes, the accelerated pace of reforms, and the country's new international positioning as a NATO member, as well as advancing EU accession negotiations. Any reversal of these developments could stall democratization processes and reintroduce obstructions, potentially returning North Macedonia to the era before the overthrow of Nikola Gruevski's regime.

Since Zoran Zaev's government (SDSM) took office in 2017, North Macedonia has achieved historical milestones. Notably, it signed the Friendship, Good Neighborliness, and Cooperation Treaty with Bulgariaand passed laws promoting the use of languages of various ethnic communities. The Prespa Agreement with Greece paved the way for Euro-Atlantic integration processes. North Macedonia became a full member of NATO in March 2020 and commenced EU membership negotiations. The pinnacle of these historic achievements was the acquisition of autocephaly for the Macedonian Orthodox Church – Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA) in 2022.

Analysts anticipate escalating rhetoric as the campaign draws to a close, emphasizing the need to prevent conflicts, violence, or foreign interference—especially from Russia and neighbouring countries, which persist in their efforts to destabilize North Macedonia. Successful presidential elections would signify another critical step for North Macedonia in solidifying itself as a pillar of peace, stability, and a reliable NATO ally, steering clear of any 'Ivanovization' of the state. This concern is underscored by the frequent interactions between presidential candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova and former President Gjorgje Ivanov, who serves as her inspiration and shares experiences with her.  “Ivanovization” of the presidential role represents a regression to Norh Macedonia's troubled past, where the threat of civil war loomed large.

Ljubljana/Bruxelles/Washington/Skopje, 23 April 2024

[1]  IFIMES - International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN in New York since 2018, and it is the publisher of the international scientific journal "European Perspectives."

[2] Source: Executive Order on Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Certain Persons Contributing To The Destabilizing Situation In The Western Balkans, link: