During the final presidential debate between the three candidates, the ruling coalition candidate Stevo Pendarovski made a final attempt to solidify the Albanian vote by going after VMRO-DPMNE candidate Gordana Siljanovska – Davkova. Siljanovska responded to the attempts to portray her as a nationalist telling Pendarovski that he has turned into a “broken record”.
We all know the speeches you made in 2001, and the Albanians know them as well, Siljanovska told Pendarovski, who was a police spokesman during the 2001 war and made a number of inflamatory comments in the process.
Siljanovska has a solid lead among ethnic Macedonians, and Pendarovski has been resorted to asking for the Albanian vote, through the DUI party which he has accused of being extremely corrupt until a few short years ago.
The issue of the Albanian vote was raised by the third candidate, Blerim Reka, who was outraged by the unprecedented attack on his ethnic background by Artan Grubi, a leading DUI party official. In an attempt to win over the Albanian voters for Pendarovski and away from Reka, Grubi insisted that Reka’s last name is not authentically Albanian and that there might be some mixed blood in him. Albanian media outlets also called Pendarovski out for his involvement in a deadly 1997 police intervention in the cities of Tetovo and Gostivar, when protesters put up Albanian flags, and three people were killed in a major police raid to remove them.
Both Reka and Siljanovska accused Pendarovski of dragging the campaign through the gutter with these nationalist and divisive rhetoric. Siljanovska also asked Pendarovski what prompted his campaign to go personal against her, with the media attack after he was photographed playing music for money in a Skopje park and sharing the receipts with a few poor Roma boys.
This was a Stalinist attack on my family. The OSCE/ODIHR report noted that, instead of welcoming a female candidate in the race, I was demeaned as a woman by your campaign. On gender and even, imagine this, age grounds, Siljanovska told Pendarovski.
Siljanovska said that Pendarovski, as a cadre from the Interior Ministry, is tainted by this autocratic institution which has been involved in all the major scandals and political upheavals in Macedonia. Pendarovski replied that by the same logic leaders like Putin and Borisov should also be removed from public office.
Pendarovski tried to portray himself as the rule of law candidate, only to be reminded by Siljanovska that his party leader, Zoran Zaev, asked for and received a presidential pardon for corrupt practices as Mayor of Strumica. And yet Zaev now insists that the President doesn’t have the right to give pardon without the approval of the Government, Siljanovska continued.
As in the previous few debates, Pendarovski was again combative and prone to facial tics, which made him a standard feature on the social media memes.