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News 13 Oct 17

Hush Descends in Macedonia Ahead of Local Elections

The pre-election 'silence' ahead of the first round of voting in Macedonia's municipal elections begins on Friday at midnight and lasts until Sunday when the vote takes place.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Archive photo: MIA

Campaigning is halting on Friday in Macedonia ahead of Sunday's local elections, when almost 1.8 million registered voters will choose mayors and local councils in 80 municipalities plus the capital, Skopje.

Over the 20 days of the campaign, parties, coalitions and independent candidates have focused primarily on promises to improve local infrastructure.

However, the vote comes after a two-and-a-half year long political crisis, which only ended in May with the election of an new Social Democrat-led government.

Therefore, the vote is also seen as an important barometer of the popularity of the new course of the new government following the change of regime at a national level.

The elections also pose a big challenge for the VMRO DPMNE leader and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who is facing criminal investigations related to his party's 11 years in power.

The results of the election will greatly impact on his chances of staying on as head of the party, amid calls for his resignation.

The Social Democrats, SDSM, hope that a good result for them will mark the final end of the Gruevski era in politics, while VMRO DPMNE hopes that a strong vote for their party will mean an early general election and their comeback to government.

Eight candidates are competing to become mayor of the capital, Skopje, the big prize in the elections.

The main battle there is being fought between the incumbent VMRO DPMNE mayor, Koce Trajanovski, who is running for a third term, and Petre Silegov of the SDSM.

Various polls commissioned before and during the campaign gave a slight advantage in terms of popularity to the SDSM over VMRO DPMNE.

In the ethnic Albanian-dominated municipalities, concentrated in north-west Macedonia, the main battle is being fought between the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and several smaller Albanian rivals like the BESA movement and the Alliance for Albanians, who seek to end the DUI's long dominance of the Albanian community.

Voters will cast ballots at 3,480 polling stations across the country. They will choose between a total of 260 mayoral candidates for the 81 municipalities. Only 15 of these candidates are women.

Preliminary results are expected late on Sunday and on Monday. However, in many places a mayor will only be elected in the second round, set for October 29, between the two leading candidates from the first round.

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