The leader of Macedonia’s main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, has announced his plans to resign soon as party leader.
Gruevski was seen by many as an authoritarian leader. His resignation will open the way for restructuring and democratisation within the party. Its many members, particularly those employed in the public administration, served as useful bodies to attend rallies and protests, but their opinion was never heard.
As prime minister, Gruevski was the central figure in Macedonian politics from 2006 to 2016, and as his rule progressed VMRO consolidated its hold on power in the country. He was finally ousted as part of an EU and US brokered agreement between government and opposition, and VMRO’s new position in opposition was confirmed by its poor showing in the recent local elections which dashed any hopes of the party making a speedy return to power.
The new government led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) in coalition with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) has promised to led the country to the EU and Nato membership, processes which were stalled during the decade of rule by VMRO.
Gruevski said ahead of the October 15 local election that he would step down if VMRO didn’t win. In the event, it suffered a devastating defeat, winning only five mayor posts compared to the 57 taken by the governing SDSM.
“Regardless of the outcome of the election analysis, even if it finds that objectively my responsibility for the defeat was small or none, I will tender my resignation to the party’s bodies,” Gruevski said in an interview with news portal Kurir, posted on the party’s website on December 1.
“The party, according to the statute, will hold an extraordinary congress, during which, besides the report on the election analysis, the new party’s leader will be elected,” Gruevski said.
He did not specify when he will submit his resignation, but said that “another week or two are probably needed for analysis, but the resignation may not be necessarily related to its completion, as it is not related to its outcome.”
The party’s executive committee may hold a session on December 4, according to broadcaster Alsat-M, but the information has not been officially confirmed.
Gruevski’s announcement came a few days after the public prosecutor’s office charged 36 people, including six VMRO MPs and other high-profile Macedonians, for their role in violent incidents in the parliament at the end of April, in which 100 people were injured.
The VMRO leader said he hopes that his resignation will help stabilise the political climate in the country.
Gruevski has led the party since 2003 and his fourth and final mandate is due to expire in mid-2019.
Gruevski is also facing pressure to resign from opponents within his party following series of scandals. The reformist wing of the party is one of the biggest advocates for his resignation. He faces criminal charges in several cases launched after wiretapped conversations between top officials were leaked by the SDSM in 2015.
VMRO secretary general Hristijan Mickoski said earlier that if Gruevski decides to resign, the next leader should be someone who will be acceptable for the party’s members, has a positive perception among the public and, most importantly, will be accepted by the international community — none of which applies to Gruevski.
His loss of popularity has been highlighted recently as he tried and failed to rally supporters to protest against the recent sentencing of party members over the parliament violence.
Only a small number of party supporters led by Gruevski have turned out for the daily protests in front of the justice ministry and the court in Skopje, and they are only rarely joined by other top party officials. Since VMRO lost power, Gruevski has been unable to mobilise party members.
According to some media, there are rumours that Gruevski might be replaced by the Mickovski, who was former director of state power producer ELEM, or by former foreign minister Nikola Popovski. Other potential candidates are former health minister Nikola Todorov, another ex-foreign minister Antonio Milososki and MP Ilija Dimovski.