Opposition Claims Victory in Local Elections in North Macedonia

In a sharp setback for the Social Democrat-led government of Zoran Zaev, the main right-wing opposition VMRO DPMNE party has claimed victory in Sunday’s first round of local elections, while the Albanian junior ruling Democratic Union for integration, DUI, so far won mayoral races in three Albanian-dominated municipalities.

If this trend of the result goes on the local poll would mark a striking political comeback of opposition VMRO DPMNE party after three election defeats to the ruling Social Democrats.

The VMRO DPMNE party had won 16 mayoral races in the first round, as opposed to nine for the Social Democrats according to the preliminary results from the Central Electoral Commission, DIK, which by Monday morning had counted the votes in 67 of the 81 municipalities, said BIRN on Monday.

Even more notably, the opposition will most likely have the advantage of several tens of thousands of votes overall against the Social Democrats, judging from still incomplete data.

The opposition also did surprisingly well in the election’s “crown jewel”, the capital, Skopje. There, after just over 80 per cent of the votes were counted, their candidate, Danela Arsovska, was in the lead with 37.20 per cent of the votes, against the Social Democrat incumbent, Petre Shilegov, who won 35.06 per cent. This means both candidates will run in the second round, due in two weeks’ time.

“This is not the end of the battle. The real battle is yet ahead of us,” VMRO DPMNE party leader, Hristijan Mickoski told cheering supporters on Sunday night at his election HQ.

He was referring to his earlier announcement that, if they win the local elections, they will push to form a majority in parliament, or step up calls for early elections, which should regularly take place in 2024.

The government of Zoran Zaev currently has only the thinnest of majorities, with just 62 MPs in the 120-seat parliament.

The atmosphere among the Social Democrats on Sunday night was gloomy. In a midnight address, Zaev did not outright admit defeat and insisted said that “the elections are not over yet”, and that his party would “surely” improve its score in the second round, in two weeks’ time, thanks to its supposed capacity to attract voters from smaller parties that will not be present in round two.

“At the end of the second round, I assure you we will have more mayors elected than the retrograde alliance [led by VMRO DPMNE],” Zaev insisted.

In the ethnic Albanian bloc, the junior ruling Democratic Union for integration, DUI, so far won mayoral races in three Albanian-dominated municipalities. But it is facing a threat in the “crown jewel” in the Albanian camp, the north-western town of Tetovo.

Although the incumbent DUI mayor, Teuta Arifi, has the lead there, she will have to compete in the second round with Bilal Kasami, the head of the smaller BESA party, which also forms part of the ruling government alliance.

The battle between two government partners in Tetovo will put the Social Democrats in the awkward position of having to choose which ally to endorse in the second round, risking potentially losing one or other partner in a government that relies on both. Albanians make up about a quarter of North Macedonia’s population of just over 2.1 million. There are some 1.8 million voters in these elections. The DIK said that the turnout thus far was 49 per cent.

Several independent lists of activists from nongovernmental organizations also are running for local offices on October 17. Voters in most cities and some rural municipalities will see them on the ballot as part of newly established independent lists.

Independent lists a test of main parties’ strength

Several independent lists of activists from nongovernmental organizations also ran for local offices on October 17. Voters in most cities and some rural municipalities will see them on the ballot as part of newly established independent lists.

Political analysts say the growth of independent lists could test the strength of the main parties and bring a new dimension to municipal councils.

Authorities in North Macedonia said they had arrested five people for bribing voters the day before the elections.

Four people were arrested in Dracevo, near Skopje, after North Macedonia police said they tried to give money to people in exchange for their votes. A fifth person was arrested in the village of Milino after being caught giving money to voters.

In another incident, a man from Prilep was remanded in custody for allegedly threatening the city's mayoral candidate, the Prosecutor-General's Office said.

A judge ordered an eight-day detention for the 27-year-old man after one of the mayoral candidates was threatened on Facebook. He faces prosecution on the criminal offense of endangering security. /Compiled by argumentum.al