Zaev to step aside as North Macedonia PMReading Time: 2 minutes
Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev officially stood down as leader of the country’s ruling party SDSM on Saturday, in the wake of right-wing opposition VMRO-DPMNE’s landslide victory in local elections earlier this month.
So far only Deputy Finance Minister Dimitar Kovacevski has announced a candidacy to succeed Zaev in the SDSM’s internal party ballot scheduled two weeks from now. Zaev, who will remain prime minister in the interim, said the country should not hold snap elections in the wake of his resignation and should not lose focus on its ambition to join the European Union. The Social Democrat SDSM party will meanwhile attempt to form a new parliamentary bloc, as its junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian party Besa, has reportedly joined forces with VMRO-DPMNE.
After the announcements, VMRO-DPMNE accused potential successor Kovacevski of being “a pawn of Zaev and a man of the oligarchy”. Kovacevski responded to state news agency MIA that he is “nobody’s man, but a man with integrity and the professional experience to be SDSM leader.” The state should focus on key domestic issues such as strengthening the economy, raising living standards, fighting crime and corruption, and judicial reform, Kovacevski added. On Monday morning he said “any detected corruption must be sanctioned”.
After four years in power, Zaev’s legacy will be seen as one of qualified success abroad coupled with a lack of domestic progress. He became SDSM leader in 2013, and after losing the national elections the following year released a series of leaked telephone recordings in 2015 that showed that, under then prime minister Nikola Gruevski, the state apparatus was being used to eavesdrop on around 20,000 journalists, politicians, NGO leaders and other influential citizens, totalling around one percent of the country’s some two million inhabitants. The conversations also laid bare widespread government corruption and even election rigging.
With outside help from Germany, the US and the EU, Zaev managed to make Gruevski agree to hold snap elections, which SDSM narrowly won, and he became premier in 2017. The Zaev government renamed the country North Macedonia, ending a decades long dispute with Greece, joined NATO and took part in the creation of a West Balkan economic zone, which guaranteed the EU’s “four freedoms” of movement of people, capital, goods and services. However the lack of meaningful movement in EU negotiations and similarly slow progress with domestic reforms – not helped by a fragile coalition and slim parliamentary majority – saw the SDSM lose voter support after the initial enthusiasm of the post-Gruevski era.
More SDSM candidates are expected to run for the leadership post in its internal party elections on December 12, when opposition VMRO-DPMNE will also hold an intra-party ballot.