Ruling Social Democrats Elect New Leader, Zaev’s Era Is Apparently Over

A new leader has been elected by the ruling Social Democrats, SDSM, and he is Deputy Finance Minister Dimitar Kovacevski who replaces Zoran Zaev as head of party, and, most probably, as head of government, in internal party elections.

Deputy Minister Dimitar Kovacevski won more than 37,000 of just over 44,000 votes in internal Social Democratic Party leadership elections on Sunday, leaving the other two candidates, Frosina Remenski and Jovan Despotovski, far behind.

After suffering major defeats in November’s local elections Zaev resigned both as PM and as party chief.

“Everything that will happen within the party but also in the country in the years to come will be our responsibility. Whenever the Social Democrats are strong and have a clear agenda, the country moves forward, so we need a strong and unified party. We are the pillar of the progressive part of our society, so people rightfully expect us to work together, responsibly and with dedication,” Kovacevski said on Sunday after being elected leader.

Kovacevski, 47, who was Zaev’s favorite in the race to be his successor, comes to the party’s helm at a tough time, as the country faces health and energy crises, and as it is struggling to achieve a breakthrough with neighboring Bulgaria that would finally unclog its EU accession process.

The ruling party now has the support of 64 MPs in the 120-seat parliament.

After replacing Zaev as head of the party, Kovacevski is likely to replace him as head of the government. Last week, Zaev told the media that his days as PM were “numbered” and that he would prefer a new Social Democratic leader to replace him soon.

However, it is not known exactly when this will happen, or whether Zaev will stay on as PM for a while longer, at least to January, to see the outcome of the country’s fresh bid to reach a breakthrough with Bulgaria over blocked EU accession talks.

A long-standing member of the Social Democrats, and member of the Social Democrats’ executive committee since May 2021, Kovacevski remains relatively unknown to the public in North Macedonia.

The deputy Finance Minister and economics professor at the American College in Skopje has not been part of the Social Democrats’ top tier of politicians.

In its initial reaction, the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party, which also voted for a leader on Sunday, and, as expected, re-elected Hristijan Mickoski, accused Kovacevski of being a puppet of Zaev’s – who they accuse of betraying national interests and fostering corruption. /