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The main political players will hold their final rallies on Friday before the election silence kicks off ahead of Sunday's vote.
Photo by: MIA
After the pre-election silence on Saturday, voters will hit the polling stations on Sunday morning to choose mayors and municipal council members in 80 municipalities and the city of Skopje.
The main battle is between the coalition led by the ruling VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the opposition led by the Social Democrats of Branko Crvenkovski.
In the Albanian political bloc, the main contestants are the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.
Over the past 20 days of the election campaign, parties, coalitions and independent candidates have presented their platforms and candidates, focusing primarily on promises to improve local infrastructure.
However, the Social Democrats have insisted that the vote should be taken as a referendum on the national government. They pledge to continue their campaign for early general elections after the local vote is over.
The local election is expected to be particularly tense in the western towns of Struga and Kicevo where Macedonians and Albanians are mobilising on ethnic lines.
While the two main Macedonian parties, VMRO DPMNE and SDSM are fielding joint candidates in the towns, the ethnic Albanian parties have adopted a similar strategy.
To add to the controversy, Macedonian civil aviation authorities report that 17, mostly charter, flights from Switzerland are due to arrive in Macedonia this weekend, believed to be carrying ethnic Albanian voters from abroad to the two towns. If so, their presence at the polling stations on Sunday will shift the balance towards Albanian candidates.
The junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, has confirmed the arrival of diaspora Albanians but has denied claims that it has paid for them to come.
The election campaign came after months of uncertainty caused by a political crisis, which
began on December 24, when the government parties passed a budget for 2013 in only minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from the chamber.
Weeks of street protests followed, along with a boycott of parliament and a threat to boycott the local elections.
The opposition agreed to join the elections only after the European Union brokered a deal on March 1.
“Only with fair and democratic local elections the country can expect the upcoming European Commission progress report to be positive,” the head of Enlargement at the European Commission, Stefano Sannino told Macedonian Vice-Prime Minister Fatmir Besimi on Thursday in Brussels.
In December, the EU Council said that any decision on opening accession talks for Macedonia would be based on the next special report of the European Commission, due on April 16.
The report is tasked with assessing whether Macedonia has taken real steps towards reaching a deal with Greece over its name, to which Athens objects, whether it has improved relations with Bulgaria and whether it has carried out reforms at home.
Over 1,740,000 people are eligible to cast ballots in 2,976 polling stations across Macedonia. Some 350 mayoral candidates are running for office. The vote will be monitored by 8,400 local election monitors and 410 foreign observers.
By insisting on a boycott of the March elections, the Social Democrat leader risks dividing his followers, not all of whom have faith in his strategy.
An overcrowded market and lack of legal safeguards leaves the media in Kosovo vulnerable to a variety of political pressures.