The country is badly divided and its future path is unclear.
It is never good news when a political party with a long history of antagonistic nationalism and criminality threatens to retake power. This is doubly so in the Balkans, with its history of conflict. Events in North Macedonia are therefore worth some urgent attention, lest what seems like a very local dispute suddenly takes on a wider significance, write Janelle Clausen and Leon Hartwell in Europe’s Edge.
The latest trouble began when the ruling party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), performed badly in local elections. The vote was a likely bellwether for national elections, which may be called early. If won by the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity’s (VMRO-DPMNE) — which only narrowly failed to unseat the government in a parliamentary confidence vote — there may be serious negative implications.
Firstly, North Macedonia’s passage to European Union (EU) membership will become still harder; and secondly, it may also fan the flames of disputes with neighbors, who are easily able to make life difficult for a landlocked country. That could further tarnish the reputation of the Western Balkans region in Western capitals. In short, it does matter.
Five years ago, the SDSM evicted the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE from power. A year later, it swept through the country’s biggest municipalities to control 57 out of 80 municipalities – leaving its main opposition with only five. Now the Social Democratic Union is barely hanging on; the opposition captured 42 municipalities, including the capital of Skopje, leaving the ruling party with 16 cities. The massive reversal of fortune not only led Zoran Zaev, the party leader, to announce his resignation, but VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski to file a motion of no confidence that would have led to the formation of a new government. Only a last-minute defection from MP Kastriot Rexhelpi, a member of the Albanian party, denied the opposition 61-vote threshold (by disappearing; only later did he resurface to deny opposition claims he had been kidnapped.)
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