North Macedonia's left-wing ruling Social Democratic Union (SDSM) has nominated the country's coordinator for NATO membership as its candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president.
Delegates at the party’s 23rd congress in Skopje on March 3 gave Stevo Pendarovski 712 out of 783 votes to be the nominee in the April 21 presidential election.
The 55-year-old Pendarovski also has the support of several smaller parties, including the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a junior partner in the ruling coalition. He was nominated as the SDSM presidential candidate in 2014 as well.
“You have given me a huge political responsibility,” Pendarovski told delegates, while stressing his pleasure that three parties of ethnic Albanians are supporting his candidacy.
“It is important to show that in a multiethnic state of the Balkans it is possible for people from different ethnicities to unite for the same goals: membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions, laws that promote the rights of citizens, and political representatives who go beyond the eternal ethnic lines of division,” he added.
SDSM leader and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had urged the delegates to support Pendarovski.
VMRO-DPMNE, the main conservative opposition party, has nominated Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, a law professor, as the country's first female presidential candidate.
Also expected to run are the former director of the State Archives, Fili Petrovski, and Blerim Reka, the country’s former ambassador to the European Union and an ethnic Albanian.
The deadline for collecting the required 10,000 signatures to run is March 9.
Due to term limits, President Gjorge Ivanov is not allowed to run in the election and will leave office on May 12. Ivanov, backed by VMRO-DPMNE, defeated Pendarovski in the 2014 presidential contest.
Ivanov, a conservative, was an opponent of the country’s landmark agreement with neighboring Greece that changed Macedonia's name to North Macedonia, ending a 27-year naming dispute.
Siljanovska Davkova also expressed opposition to the deal with Greece.
Athens opposed the use of the name Macedonia, saying it implied designs on a northern Greek province of the same name.
The agreement has opened North Macedonia’s path to likely NATO and EU membership, which Greece had previously blocked.