By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Social Democrats are launching a series of anti-government rallies from June onwards, to boost party morale ahead of the local elections due in early 2013.
The opposition protests, aimed against the centre-right government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, will begin in the southeastern town of Strumica on June 3.
They will end with a mas rally in the capital, Skopje, on September 2.
The Social Democrats accuse Gruevski of presiding over economic decline and of delaying the country’s NATO and EU integration. They say that Gruevski’s policies have also worsened relations between Macedonians and the large ethnic Albanian minority.
“As the biggest opposition force we have a duty to confront this irresponsible behaviour… and articulate the growing discontent among people,” party leader Branko Crvenkovski said in Skopje.
The opposition says it will use the rallies to promote its policies and its candidates in the next local elections due in spring 2013.
If they win these elections, Crvenkovski does not rule out demanding early general elections.
So far the party has lost all elections held since 2006, including two early general elections, and presidential and local elections in 2009.
The last time the party called for early elections was at the beginning of 2011. Prime Minister Gruevski accepted the challenge and won the June 5 polls, securing another four-year term in office.
The Social Democrats doubled their number of seats in parliament, but did not win enough to form a government.
Meanwhile, one recent opinion poll shows that the difference between Gruevki’s VMRO DPMNE party and the opposition is narrowing.
A survey carried out earlier this month by Rating agency showed that the popularity of the ruling party had fallen from 23.5 per cent in January to 22.1 per cent in May. The opposition remained steady on about 18 per cent.
The survey itself concluded that “people are discontented with the situation in the country but for now are not seeing any political alternative [to Gruevski]”.
Some observers also feel the latest figures do not point to a significant trend. “If we compare the latest opinion poll with the previous ones, all the fluctuations in the party’s ratings are within an accepted margin of error,” Vladimir Bozinovski, from the Institute for Political Studies told the Utrinski Vesnik daily.