Klaudjo Kavaja examines the recent first round of elections in Macedonia and comments on a possible change of leadership in the state and an end to the status quo.

The first round of elections in Macedonia saw the Social Democratic Party of Macedonia (SDSM) coalition take a convincing win in the first round of local elections held in Macedonia, securing victory in 37 out of 80 municipalities. The outgoing conservative right wing VMRO-DPMNE of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has had a disappointing first round having only managed to secure 3 municipalities. In total 45 municipalities were decided in the first round with the remaining 35 to be decided in the second round scheduled for October 29th.

Big result

The results marked a huge victory for Zoran Zaev, the pro-European leader of SDSM, and is a victory that no one would have believed a year ago when Gruevski looked all powerful. This landmark victory is larger than the December 2016 elections where Mr. Zaev’s party came second to VMRO-DPMNE but still managed to form a large coalition government with some of the Albanian parties including DUI, and thus putting an end to Gruevskis’ ten years of nationalistic ridden rule.

Change in Macedonia started with the parliamentary of 2016 where there was a concentrated effort from SDSM, then in opposition, joined forces with smaller opposition Macedonian parties and the Albania political forces against the scandal ridden VMRO who were commanding the political sphere. In these elections, Zaev managed to establish its own political credentials, following a different rhetoric from the nationalistic ridden campaigns that had become a norm with a fresh and civic campaign aiming to change to face of the country. The alliance for the local elections between SDSM and the leading Albanian party DUI, showed that going beyond existing ethnic barriers is possible.

Change of tactic

The SDSM attempt to inclusiveness started almost a year ago when two of the candidates for members of parliament from its list were of Albanian ethnic decent. In these local elections, its alliance agreement with DUI found Mr. Zaev’s party supporting BDI candidates in some municipalities and vice versa. As such, in the municipalities of Kičevo (Kërçovë in Albanian) and Tetovo, SDSM agreed to support the DUI candidates, whereas in the capital Skopje which has a substantial Albanian minority, Ali Ahmeti’s DUI decided to support SDSM for the first time by not to running its own candidate. SDSM managed to win in the capital of Skopje from the first round, and also the commune of Aračinovo/Haraçinë which is inhabited by ethnic Albanians.

New path

The road ahead is bumpy for Macedonia, having to navigate against the current in political waters where ethnic politics are the norm. Furthermore, there is a number of challenges for a government that needs to find a solution to the naming dispute with Greece and improve its relations with its neighbours. The goals are clear; EU integration and NATO membership, both of them ensuring stability for the Macedonia.

This new model coming from Macedonia, will need time before it can be safely evaluated as to how successful it will be. Despite that, it brings a fresh approach in overcoming ethnic lines and can become a new model for the region, a model of civic politics that aim to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

Klaudjo Kavaja
Klaudjo Kavaja has an academic background in International Relations, Development Work and Education Policy with experience working in the field of education, international development, and human rights with professional experience in international organizations, INGOs, and research institutes. Interests include writing and academic research in issues such as EU affairs, Education, Public Policy, Migration, Conflict and Peace-building, and Western Balkans. Klaudjo Kavaja considers the European integration of Western Balkans as a whole, as the only viable sociopolitical and economic alternative for the region. An avid language lover speaking Albanian, English, Greek, and Spanish.

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