Home Page
News 26 Sep 17

Local Polls Pose Test for Macedonia's New Leaders

Macedonia's upcoming local elections will be seen by many as an informal referendum on the new course that the country and its new government are taking.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Prime Minister and Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev during the campaign for the December 11 general elections. Photo: MIA

The campaign for the October 15 local elections in Macedonia will feature a mixed bag of local topics and big national issues, observers say – adding that the result will serve as an important barometer of the popularity of new course of the country following the change of regime at a national level.

"These elections will serve as a sort of a referendum; do we want the changes which commenced [with the new Social Democrat-led government] to continue – or do we want [VMRO DPMNE and its leader, Nikola] Gruevski to come back?" former MP and political analyst Gjorgi Spasov asked.

Analysts say the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party which went into opposition in May after 11 years of rule, but which still runs 56 of Macedonia's 81 municipalities, will focus on slating the course of the new government led by the Social Democrats, SDSM.

The efforts of the new government to solve the long-standing dispute with Greece over its name, the recently signed friendship agreement with Bulgaria, the push for a new law redefining the official use of the Albanian language – and an alleged plan to settle Middle Eastern migrants in Macedonia [which the government denies exists] – will all be topics that the opposition will try to utilize in the local elections.

"VMRO DPMNE will focus on a negative campaign linked to the migrants, the law on the use of languages and so on. But they will focus also on the successes of their current mayors," Nikola Spasov, from the Skopje-based Rating agency, predicted.

On the other hand, the Social Democrats, who in the last local elections in 2013 won only four mayoral seats, will defend the new government's course.

They might try to use their focus on rebuilding friendships with the neighbours, which they hope will revive Macedonia's stalled bids to join NATO and EU.

"The Social Democrats will focus on successes in foreign policy but will also concentrate on new issues at the local level, like solutions for the problems with pollution, gasification and similar issues," Spasov added.

Although only a local vote, some politicians have already declared that they will see the outcome as a key test of support for the general course of the country.

VMRO DPMNE leader and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told Alsat TV last week that if his party wins just one more vote than the SDSM, it would legitimize their call for an early general election.

The party, which failed to form a new government after the December 11 2016 general election, insists that voters have been duped by the new government composed of the SDSM and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI – which switched sides after the December election.

Nikola Spasov agrees that if VMRO DPMNE wins the vote, it will be able to dictate the tempo and push more strongly for early general elections "at the earliest possible date".

If the SDSM wins, however, they could become the ones to push for early general elections, in order to strengthen their narrow majority in parliament, currently comprised of just 62 of the 120 seats in parliament.

According to the latest survey by the US-based International Republican Institute, published on Monday, 19 per cent of respondents said they would vote for the SDSM while 18 per cent opted for VMRO DPMNE.

Another 7 per cent chose the DUI, while 5 per cent said they would vote for another ethnic Albanian formation, the Alliance for Albanians, which is also part of the SDSM-led government.

Another 4 per cent opted for another Albanian party, BESA, while 7 per cent said they would support independent candidates.

Importantly, however, 20 per cent of the respondents interviewed during August declined to answer.

A poll published by Telma TV earlier this month showed similar results. It gave the SDSM 24.3 per cent popular support, ahead of VMRO DPMNE on 20.9 per cent.

Talk about it!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Premium Selection

16 Jan 18

Autonomy Demands Strain Hungary-Romania Relations

Hungary and Romania are at odds – again – over the issue of Transylvanian Hungarian demands for autonomy, which Bucharest must address one day, experts say. 

15 Jan 18

Race Starts to Become Serbian Capital's Next Mayor

Opposition parties have split into several factions for the Belgrade city elections set for March 4 – weakening their chances of seizing the capital from the dominant Progressive Party.

11 Jan 18

Kosovo: New Year Brings Same Old Struggles

10 Jan 18

Predrag Lucic – Made Us Laugh, Sing and Cry