site.btaUPDATED North Macedonia's Seven Presidential Candidates Hold Debate, Air Positions on Constitutional Amendments

North Macedonia's Seven Presidential Candidates Hold Debate, Air Positions on Constitutional Amendments
North Macedonia's Seven Presidential Candidates Hold Debate, Air Positions on Constitutional Amendments
Downtown Skopje (BTA Photo)

The seven presidential candidates of the Republic of North Macedonia Sunday held their first, and last, debate before the April 24 elections. The functions of the head of State were discussed by Stevo Pendarovski (backed by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM), Gordana Siljanovska (VMRO-DPMNE), Stevco Jakimovski (Citizens Option for Macedonia, GROM), Bujar Osmani (Democratic Union for Integration, DSI), Biljana Vankovska (Left), Arben Taravari (Alliance for Albanians, VLEN) and Maksim Dimitrievski (For Our Macedonia, ZNAM).

The debate was organized by the state-owned Macedonian Radio-television.

The incumbent President, Stevo Pendarovski, who is running for a second term, said that while amending the constitution to include Bulgarians in it, which is a condition for the real start of EU accession talks, the president's suspensory veto should be changed to absolute veto. In addition, the wording "the language spoken by at least 20% of the population" should be replaced by "the Albanian language" as demanded by the Albanian parties. As to the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution, Pendarovski said that in foreign policy terms, it seems that a European state has set conditions, but in domestic policy terms this amounts to adding "a small Bulgarian minority" along with a few more ethnic communities.

He added that the reality in North Macedonia is multi-ethnic. "We are looking for concrete models of co-existence for the good of the country, instead of fighting among ourselves. Bulgaria's idea is clear - to fully embrace the Bulgarian narrative. We have rejected it. All that is left is for these 3,500 Bulgarians, a small Bulgarian minority living here, to be included in the constitution along with five other parts of peoples."

Gordana Siljanovska called for "fundamental constitutional reforms" based on broad expert analysis.

Stevco Jakimovski said he was against the constitutional revisions and in favour of broader presidential powers. Talking about the constitution, he said: "The EU needs us as much as we need the EU. That is why we should also set conditions instead of being servile. We fall short even of the level of [Kosovo Prime Minister] Albin Kurti, who accepts what works for him and rejects what he does not need."

Bujar Osmani said the president should be elected by parliament. "The existing model is a model of further polarization. I think [the election of the president by parliament] in an inclusive process will lead to depolarization, as well as to the inclusion of everyone in the decision-making. This will promote democracy in the spirit of the Ohrid Framework Agreement." He added that Skopje should avail itself of "the window of opportunity for EU enlargement" and politicians should reach a consensus on meeting the conditions in the negotiating framework.

Biljana Vankovska urged "radical changes" in the constitution, saying that the EU has changed and NATO is involved in "a proxy war in Ukraine". She is in favour of terminating the agreement with Bulgaria, "which is the easiest" to do, and the Prespa Agreement [on the country's name change with Greece].

Arben Taravari argued that North Macedonia should seek a guarantee from the EU that the amendments to the constitution are the last condition because "obviously, the negotiating framework cannot change". Referring to the other constitutional revisions, he said: "Demography should be accepted as it is." He also said: "I dare you to find a place where language use is defined in percentages and numbers. Fifty years ago the official languages were Macedonian, Albanian and Turkish. Now we are arguing about whether or not we should use the wording '20%' in the constitution. Why don't we discuss a new constitution, different powers of the president and different solutions to the country's problems."

Maksim Dimitrievski argued against constitutional amendments so as "to prevent a disintegration of the unity of the state and a hidden transformation of North Macedonia from simple to complex structure". He also said that according to Brussels, "changing the negotiating framework is difficult but not impossible, and Serbia's negotiating framework is proof of this".

Monday is the last day of the election campaign and Tuesday is a day of election silence before the first round of the presidential elections.

/DD/

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By 01:42 on 29.05.2024 Today`s news

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