Macedonia’s ruling SDSM cements position with local election victory

Macedonia’s ruling SDSM cements position with local election victory
Prime Minister and SDSM leader Zoran Zaev speaks ahead of the local election runoff. / SDSM.
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje October 30, 2017

The governing Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) claimed it won most of the mayor posts in the local election runoff held on October 29, confirming its election triumph in the first round.

The results in the two rounds of the vote showed that the policies implemented by the new government led by the SDSM were supported by most citizens. The SDSM came to power at the end of May in coalition with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) putting an end to a decade of rule by VMRO-DPMNE, and its position has been reinforced by its landslide victory in the local elections; most mayor positions were previously held by VMRO-DPMNE. 

The runoff was held in the 35 municipalities where mayors failed to win enough votes in the first round of the local elections held on October 15. Mayors were elected in 45 municipalities in the first round, of which SDSM won 37 posts, VMRO-DPMNE three and the DUI two.

According to initial data from the state election commission, the SDSM is leading in 17 municipalities across the country and in most municipalities in Skopje, where a second round was held. VMRO-DPMNE, which ruled the country for a decade until 2017, is leading in just three municipalities. 

The DUI has a lead in six municipalities, the Alliance for Albanians in three, while Besa, another ethnic Albanian party, has won one mayor post, according to initial results. One quarter of the population in Macedonia are ethnic Albanians.

The runoff was held in a calm atmosphere without the euphoria seen when the outcome of the first round was announced. Citizens say they only expect the new mayors to work on improving their living conditions and to solve problems at the local level.

SDSM leader and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that the vote in the second round was fair and democratic.

“We do not need euphoria. Celebrations will end tonight and we will continue working on reforms as of tomorrow,” Zaev said following the vote.

Zaev underlined that the aim is to bring prosperity to all citizens and to work on Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration.

Most of Skopje's major municipalities elected mayors in the first round. Interestingly, SDSM candidate Velimir Smilevski is leading in the Skopje municipality of Butel, which has a mixed population, and where citizens traditionally support VMRO-DPMNE due to its populist policies and promises to safeguard the rights of Macedonians. 

A few ethnic Macedonians from Butel, with whom bne IntelliNews’ journalist talked, said they feared that ethnic Albanians were pursuing an expansionist policy and putting pressure on Macedonians in a subtle way to move out from the municipality. They also complained that ethnic Albanians are building too many mosques in Butel disproportionate with the number of orthodox churches, and feared that the SDSM would not stop them. 

However, voters also said the SDSM is promising a better life for all citizens regardless of their ethnicity.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on October 16 following the first round that the elections took place in a competitive environment and contributed to strengthening confidence in the democratic process.

However, VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski said that he does not recognise the results of the local vote. The opposition leader seeks early parliamentary election and complained about election irregularities. Gruevski also asked for the head of the state election commission Aleksandar Cicakovski to be dismissed.

On the other hand, Zaev said that Gruevski should reconsider his decision not to recognise the election.