North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has launched “Operation Broom”, a wide reaching cleanup of officials in the government and ruling party.
Zaev announced the changes after the ruling coalition’s candidate barely scraped ahead of its main rival in the first round of the presidential vote on April 21.
The prime minister kicked off “Operation Broom” by dismissing all presidents of municipal branches of the senior ruling SDSM, after pledging to sack party and government officials who have performed poorly.
The prime minister said that the process to elect new party leadership at local level will start immediately.
Responding to the election result, which came as a shock to the SDSM, Zaev promised that the cabinet will work hard to eliminate weaknesses.
Zaev also announced on May 23 that changes in the government, state-owned companies and all government institutions will take place in the first half of June.
Zaev’s government was responsible for the name deal with Greece, under which the country formerly known as Macedonia had its name changed to North Macedonia, ending a longstanding dispute with Athens and opening the way for it to join Nato and the EU.
However, voters used the election to show their unhappiness with the country’s poor economic performance, nepotism, continued corruption and selective justice.
In the first round of the presidential vote on April 21, SDSM candidate Stevo Pendarovski won 42.84% of the votes, only 0.6 pp ahead of Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the nominee of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party.
Pendarovski was elected president following the second round of election on May 5, when he was ahead of his rival by nearly 7 pp, but the poor results in the first round caused the governing SDSM party to re-think its policy on domestic issues.
The coalition government has been really shaken and top officials openly admitted that there were many wrong moves such as the appointment of incompetent officials to leading positions.
MP embroiled in drug scandal
Coinciding with the launch of Operation Broom, an MP from the governing coalition, Pavle Bogoevski, resigned on May 23 after an audio recording appeared to show him ordering some kind of narcotic.
Bogoevski was elected MP as a candidate of the SDSM in 2016 and was head of the parliament’s mandatory immunity issues’ commission
He was also a leader of the “Colourful Revolution”, which brought down the regime of former conservative PM Nikola Gruevski, who fled to Budapest last year after being sentenced to two years in prison for the purchase of a luxury Mercedes using state funds.
The drug scandal erupted at a time when Bogoevski was set to launch a commission session to take away Gruevski’s MP mandate.
Bogoevski became a target of public criticism on a daily basis from both governing and opposition party representatives after Russian social network Vkontakte published an audio recording on May 14, indicating that Bogoevski was ordering “a half” of something, which was allegedly a half gram of cocaine even though the recording does not mention anything specifically. The opposition claimed that he arranged a purchase of cocaine and asked Bogoevski to be tested for narcotics, which he refused.
Immediately after the release of the audiotape, Bogoevski confirmed on his Facebook page that it was his voice, saying he was secretly taped by a taxi driver.
However, he denied that he ordered cocaine, saying it was cannabis oil intended for medical use for his close relative. He also reported himself to the police.
“The fact is that, regardless of the reasons, I committed a criminal offence by the purchase of cannabis oil,” Bogoevski said at the commission session on May 23, underlying he is resigning for ethical reasons.
The use of cannabis oil has been legal in North Macedonia since 2016, but only if patients buy it from pharmacies, not from illegal channels.
Bogoevski accused the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party of being behind the illegal recording, in order to protect its former leader Gruevski.
Bogoevski's resignation is expected to be approved at the plenary session of the parliament.
Zaev said that Bogoevski's resignation was a courageous decision and an example of how one politician should take responsibility.