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Macedonia's - normally feuding - main ruling and opposition parties are uniting against Albanian candidates in two key towns in the west for the March 24 local elections.
Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski
Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party and the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM - normally at complete loggerheads - have filed joint lists of candidates for mayors and councillors in the two western towns of Kicevo and Struga.
The alliances increase the chances of ethnic Macedonians becoming mayors in the towns, where Macedonians and Albanians are almost equal in numbers.
Speaking in Struga, Prime Minister and VMRO DPMNE head Nikola Gruevski this week urged local Macedonians to “forget the political fight between the VMRO DPMNE and SDSM because Struga has a problem”, meaning the current Albanian mayor, Ramiz Merko.
The two parties have otherwise spared no words in smearing each other during the local election campaign.
Gruevski last week called the Social Democrats “traitors”, for seeming more willing to change the country’s name in the face of objections from Greece.
The Social Democrats, who only recently called off a boycott of parliament aimed at forcing early general elections, have meanwhile called Gruevski’s party “fascists” and “totalitarian” at their rallies.
Experts said the decision to ally on March 24 in Struga and Kicevo is a sign of how strained ethnic relations between Macedonians and Albanians have become.
“This tells a good deal about the anxiety between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, which has become so great that it can even unite bitter political rivals,” Skopje-based political analyst Naser Ziberi said.
However, Vlado Kocoski, the joint VMRO DPMNE and SDSM candidate for Struga, says he does not wish to be seen as an "ethnic" mayor in the making.
“For me, there is no Macedonian and Albanian political bloc, as all are equal citizens,” he told the Kurir news portal.
When the two parties last week said they wanted to submit joint candidates, the local electoral commissions in the two towns, dominated by ethnic Albanians, said was too late. But the State Electoral Commission later allowed the new joint lists.
This has annoyed the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, a junior party in the government, which is unhappy that its partner had joined forces with the opposition.
The DUI head, Ali Ahmeti, on Wednesday called the decision “unlawful”, but added that despite this his party would do “everything for the elections to pass off in a good atmosphere”.
The ethnic situation in Kicevo is complex. The main ethnic Albanian parties, including the DUI, seek the attachment of surrounding rural areas to the town, which would make Kicevo a predominantly Albanian municipality.
A similar move made earlier in Struga in 2004 helped Ramiz Merko from the DUI to become the town's first ethnic Albanian mayor.
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