Up to 15,000 join opposition march in Macedonian capital

Up to 15,000 join opposition march in Macedonian capital
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje October 12, 2016

Up to 15,000 people participated in a peaceful march in Skopje on October 11, organised by Macedonia’s main opposition party two months ahead of the planned snap general election.

The march demonstrated the strength of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) in advance of the December 11 election. While polls show the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE is in the lead, the SDSM has announced plans for a broad opposition front and may also strike a coalition deal with ethnic Albanian parties to form a majority in the parliament after the election. 

Macedonia’s upcoming elections are seen as a way for the country to exit its long-running political crisis. The crisis erupted following the wiretapping scandal last year, after SDSM leader Zoran Zaev released a series of recorded conversations, which revealed crime and corruption among senior government officials.

The march coincided with the national Day of Uprising holiday, the anniversary of when Macedonia started to fight against the German occupation in 1941.

“The date is symbolic as it means that the struggle continues,” Zaev stressed in an address to demonstrators.

The march began around 14.30 local time. The main event, which was held in front of the newly renovated parliament building, started with a live performance of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” by a local group, and ended with Zaev’s speech.

“This is a march of returning the state to the citizens,” Zaev said addressing the party’s supporters and citizens, according to the video clip posted on the party’s website.

Zaev sent strong messages to the government, which he accused of corruption, and said that “stolen money” would be returned to the Macedonian people.

“The regime will be overthrown and we will open the way for freedom. We will win,” Zaev said.

Former intelligence chief Zoran Verusevski was in the front lines of the march alongside SDSM senior officials. Verusevski spent some time in prison for allegedly plotting a coup and providing Zaev with the recorded material released in the wiretapping scandal.

The release of the wiretapped conversation sparked mass protests in Skopje in spring 2015. Further protests, dubbed the Colourful Revolution, followed this year. The SDSM’s October 11 demonstration was peaceful, but further protests cannot be ruled out in Macedonia’s unpredictable political environment. 

The previous day, lawmakers gathered in the parliament to celebrate the Day of Uprising and to mark the end of the six-year renovation of the 78-year old assembly, a project estimated at over €20mn.

The SDSM aims to defeat the VMRO-DPMNE, which has ruled since 2006. The party says it believes it will win the election though the latest poll conducted by the local Pavel Satev Institute shows that the VMRO-DPMNE leads with 25.9%, ahead of the SDSM supported by just 15.7% of those surveyed.

However, the SDSM recently announced plans to join forces with other left-wing and centrist parties to form a wide front in the upcoming general election.

The party also hopes to attract ethnic Albanian voters, which was signalled by its plan to open an office in the Skopje district of Cair, populated mainly by ethnic Albanians.

Currently the main ethnic Albanian party, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), is a coalition partner in the government alongside the VMRO-DPMNE, though there is speculation it might agree to work with the SDSM after the election. The Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), is in opposition, but has close ties with the governing party.