North Macedonia Prime Minister to resign after party defeat in local elections

North Macedonia’s embattled Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Sunday he was resigning after his party’s poor performance in municipal elections over the weekend.

The shocking announcement follows months of declining popularity for the prime minister as he struggled to keep the country’s economy going amid headwinds from the pandemic and talks about a possible accession to the European Union almost stalled.

“I take responsibility for the results of these elections. I am resigning as prime minister, ”Zaev said during a press conference.

“I have brought freedom and democracy, and democracy means taking responsibility,” he said.

The prime minister offered few details or a timetable for when he would resign, a move that must be approved by parliament. Zaev said he also opposed a new round of elections after his resignation.

The main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, which won big victories in the weekend’s elections, including in the capital Skopje, appeared to call for a new round of parliamentary elections after the announcement.

“The government has delegitimized itself and that is the new reality that will manifest itself in parliament over time. However, it is better if this happens through early parliamentary elections, ”said opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski.

Zaev was elected prime minister in 2017 after 10 years of a right-wing government led by strongman Nikola Gruevski, whose government was rocked by a major wiretapping scandal revealed by Zaev himself.

In 2018, Zaev struck a difficult deal with Athens to add the geographic qualifier “North” to the country’s official name to distinguish it from the Greek province of Macedonia.

The name change was a precondition for paving the way for possible EU membership.

However, since then, the country has faced threats from Bulgaria to block the start of talks due to a separate dispute, with Sofia disputing the origin of the Macedonian language, calling it a Bulgarian dialect.

Both countries also claim certain historical facts and characters, mainly from the Ottoman era.

Zaev had vowed to advance EU membership talks after the country officially became a candidate for membership, but has had little to show for it in recent months.

North Macedonia held parliamentary elections in 2020 that saw Zaev’s Social Democrats return to power, after his party narrowly won a victory over right-wing rivals.

His governing coalition, an alliance with the largest party representing the ethnic Albanian minority, continues to have a slim majority in parliament.

Zaev hails from the eastern city of Strumica, where his family is one of the country’s leading producers of ajvar, a red pepper condiment much loved in the Balkans.

He entered politics in 2003, eventually becoming mayor of his hometown for three terms and then leader of the Social Democrats in 2013.

(AFP)

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