By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
At an anti-government rally in Skopje on Sunday, Macedonia’s joint opposition bloc called for early general elections to be held along with the March local polls.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters on Sunday filled Skopje’s central square, demanding early elections and protesting against the government of Nikola Gruevski whose VMRO DPMNE party has been in power since 2006.
“Let us go on to local and general elections in March,” Branko Crvenkovski, head of the main opposition Social Democrats said.
The call for early general elections alongside the planned local elections in the spring comes amid speculation that the government itself is preparing for a snap poll, hoping to catch the opposition unprepared.
The opposition bloc, “Alliance for the Future”, accused Gruevski of presiding over economic decline, of curbing democracy and freedom of speech and of delaying the country’s integration into NATO and the EU.
“This is a country of record unemployment, insolvent economy, frozen bank accounts… They [the government] have doubled the country’s debt… and this is not a democracy but a state run by a regime,” Crvenkovski said.
The opposition used the meeting to promote Jani Makraduli, a Social Democrat deputy, as its mayoral candidate for Skopje, the main prize in the 2013 local elections.
He criticized the expensive government-funded revamp of the capital, Skopje 2014, that draws inspiration from the artistic styles of Classical Antiquity.
“There is only one motive behind it: stealing money. This crime has cost more than 500 million euro,” he said, pledging that if the opposition wins, money will go on “roads and factories” and not on monuments and fountains.
The stakes for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming local elections are high as it seeks to recover much of its old popularity and power, lost in recent years.
Since losing power nationally in 2006 the party has suffered a series of defeats in local, presidential and general elections at the hands of VMRO DPMNE.
Although the Social Democrats boosted their numbers in parliament in last June’s early general election, they still lost the election to the ruling party. At local level they now control only a handful of more than 80 municipalities.
The front against Gruevski includes Crvenkovski’s once bitter rival, Ljubco Georgievski, who now presides over the small VMRO-People’s Party, but was formerly a leader of Gruevski’s VMRO DPMNE.
The rivalry between the two former Prime Ministers dominated Macedonian politics in early years of the country’s independence in the 1990s.
But the two men recently they said they needed to join forces if they were ever to defeat Gruevski.
However, an alliance with the largest ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, has been more short-lived.
The party last week said it was leaving the opposition front, angry with the Social Democrats for promoting an ethnic Macedonian candidate in the ethnically mixed municipality of Struga instead of supporting their own man.
While the pro-government media said there were “only” about 11,000 people at the rally, the opposition claimed more than 70,000 turned out, calling it “the biggest rally in recent Macedonian history”.