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News 12 Dec 17

Race for New Macedonian Opposition Leader Begins

Several high-ranking Macedonian party officials are possible contenders for the empty seat of opposition leader, amid ongoing suspicions that the election will be plagued by fraud.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
 Long-standing VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski announced his resignation earlier this month. Photo: MIA

After formally accepting the resignation of long-standing opposition leader Nikola Gruevski on Sunday night, Macedonia’s main opposition right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party is set to elect his successor from several possible contestants. The extraordinary congress is scheduled for December 22-23.

According to unnamed sources close to the party’s leadership, several high ranking party officials are favorites in the race for the empty seat. However, only one candidate  former MP Filip Petrovski – has officially submitted his candidacy so far.

Party insiders see VMRO-DPMNE secretary general Hristijan Mickovski as one of the likely favourites and former leader Gruevski's pick for the position. However, they also say he has a questionable level of support from the party base.

Three current MPs have been put forward as potential candidates. Former Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, as well as MPs Ilija Dimovski and Vlatko Gjorcev have the best standing in the party base.

Some see another former foreign minister, Nikola Poposki as a strong contender, hoping he could use his diplomatic skills to improve party’s shattered image among Western democracies following a two-year political crisis which saw the ousting of VMRO-DPMNE from power.

Gruevski announced his resignation earlier this month, after his party suffered a crushing defeat during October's local elections.

His resignation also comes after the party was ousted from government this May, ending 11 consecutive years in power. Over this period, Gruevski and the party leadership were widely accused corruption and authoritarian tendencies, for which many former high ranking officials, including Gruevski, are currently facing trials.

But members of VMRO-DPMNE who were seeking thorough party reforms and democratisation in order to escape the clutches of former leader Gruevski, remain suspicious about the congress.

VMRO-DPMNE party veteran and member of the reformist fraction, Nenad Novkovski, sees the speedy setting up of the party congress as yet another scam in which Gruevski could be free to handpick his successor, which he says would be illegitimate.

“Without the election of brand new central committee members and the election of new delegates which would then pick a new party leader and a new executive committee, the possible election of a new leader, by someone’s liking, would be completely illegitimate,” Novkovski said.

The new party leader will be established after more than 500 party delegates vote at the congress.

However, these are the same delegates unanimously elected Gruevski at the last party congress in 2015, despite widespread allegations that he had masterminded the mass illegal wiretapping of over 20,000 people.

Gruevski denies these allegations to this day, insisting that all the scandals laid against him and his closest associates over the past two years were part of an elaborate international scheme aimed at toppling him from power in order to weaken Macedonia's international position.

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