A report in pro-Government news site SDK has raised speculations that ruling SDSM and DUI parties may be preparing to drag down the turnout in the presidential elections expected next April, in a ploy to have Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi appointed as interim President, and get him to sign on the constitutional amendments renaming Macedonia into North Macedonia.
President Gjorge Ivanov has been strongly opposed to the renaming process, which SDSM and DUI hope to complete in Parliament by mid January. Afterwards the President is supposed to sign the amendments into law, something Ivanov has already refused to do with an earlier law on expanding the use of the Albanian language which he finds unconstitutional.
In order for the presidential elections to be successful, at least 40 percent of the total number of voters need to vote in the second round. During the referendum on the renaming treaty signed with Greece on September 30th, a spontaneous boycott and rejection of the renaming process drove turnout to mere 37 percent, despite ballot stuffing, pressure effected by the Government on public sector employees to vote and emphatic calls from the likes of Angela Merkel and James Mattis to get out and vote.
According to Government affiliated members of Parliament speaking to SDK, SDSM and DUI are now looking into turning the voter anger into their advantage, and pushing for a boycott of the presidential elections, and then determining that Xhaferi is an interim Speaker and getting him to sign both the constitutional amendments and the law on the use of the Albanian language.
– We will initiate constitutional changes. The referendum showed that an opposition boycott can prevent the turnout requirement from being reached. We need to avoid something similar happening and blocking our certain entry into NATO and opening of EU accession talks in June. We can initiate changes to the Constitution, and while that is in process, Parliament Speaker Talat Xhaferi will assume the office of President, unnamed ruling majority members of Parliament told SDK on their next moves in case the elections fail.
Sources within the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party indicate that they are preparing for the elections and have no intention to boycott. But, a quiet boycott imposed from the Government could prevent the turnout requirement of 40 percent from being reached.
A recent poll conducted by a pro-Government TV station showed that Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is a leading presidential candidate, but he withdrew himself from running, and besides these polls have completely missed the mark during the September 30th referendum. This has caused anxiety in the ruling coalition that they could lose the presidential elections and be stuck with another VMRO-DPMNE supporter President who would refuse to sign the constitutional amendments, pushing them to consider using a boycott and then creative interpretation of the Constitution to get Xhaferi appointed even as a temporary President.