Stevo Pendarovski should bring back the dignity and credibility to the office lost under his predecessor Gjorge Ivanov, writes Boris Georgievski.
North Macedonia avoided fresh political turmoil and confirmed its pro-Western course on Sunday. The election of Stevo Pendarovski, a political science professor who coordinated the country's efforts to join NATO, as the fifth president of the tiny Balkan republic puts more wind into the sails of the ruling coalition led by the Social Democrats.
The run-off presidential vote was a showdown between pro-EU and nationalist forces in a country deeply divided over the agreement with neighboring Greece that changed the country's name but opened the doors to NATO and the EU. During the campaign Pendarovski and his rival Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova took opposing positions on the name deal with Greece.
After the election victory both Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev promised that they will focus more on the long list of issues that have burdened North Macedonia for decades: a stagnant economy, huge unemployment, systemic corruption and nepotism, and a dysfunctional public administration.
The president holds a largely ceremonial post in North Macedonia, but Pendarovski still has a role to play as a corrector of government policies- something his predecessor Gjorge Ivanov failed to do.
For the past ten years Ivanov acted as a pawn of the former ruling nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, turning his office into a rallying point for nationalistic sentiment and anti-Western feelings and tormenting the country with his ineptitude and cowardice.
In 2016 he signed off an amnesty for all politicians facing criminal charges in an attempt to protect his political mentor- former nationalist prime minister Nikola Gruevski- who, in the meantime, lives in a self imposed exile in Budapest, under protection of Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orban. He withdrew the amnesty months later under severe international pressure, but the damage was done.
In 2017 he refused to give the mandate to form a government to the majority in the parliament thus prolonging the political crisis in the country for months, resulting in nationalists storming the parliament on April 27.
Completely isolated by the EU and the representatives of the leading Western countries because of his rejection of the Prespa Agreement with Greece, Ivanov spent the last months of his mandate openly obstructing the government and the parliament by refusing to sign key laws under the new name North Macedonia.
Pendarovski will now have the chance to bring back some much needed dignity and credibility to the presidential office. It's not a big ask considering the previous experience and the expectations are not big anyway: Nobody expects anything spectacular from the newly elected president. North Macedonia only needs a decent, "normal” president. Hopefully it has one.