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North Macedonia’s political shift rattles relations with EU neighbors

North Macedonia's political shift rattles relations with EU neighbors
By Yagiz Efe Parmaksiz
May 9, 2024 1:16 AM

North Macedonia’s political landscape has been significantly impacted by the rise in nationalist fervor, with the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party emerging victorious in both presidential and parliamentary elections

Wednesday’s rise in nationalist fervor left North Macedonia at a crossroads, changing the political environment and possibly the country’s course toward EU membership. The right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, spearheading the nationalist opposition, unexpectedly emerged victorious in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, indicating a substantial shift from the previous situation.

Even before official results were released, the ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) quickly acknowledged VMRO-DPMNE’s overwhelming victory. As word spread throughout the nation of the overwhelming triumph, fireworks lit up the skies over Skopje, the country’s capital.

The triumphant VMRO-DPMNE was congratulated by former SDSM prime minister Dimitar Kovacevski, highlighting the extent of their electoral success. To illustrate how quickly the results came in, the party’s leader, Hristijan Mickoski, had not yet given his much-anticipated victory speech.

North Macedonia’s ambitions to become a member of the European Union are significantly affected by the dramatic change in the country’s political environment. As he prepares to take on the prime ministership, Mickoski has been uncompromising in his denial of the nation’s new name, which is a fundamental component of a historic deal with Greece in 2018. This deal, which added “North” to the nation’s name, concluded a protracted disagreement and made it easier for it to join NATO.

Furthermore, it is anticipated that linguistic and historical differences would increase tensions with Bulgaria, another EU neighbor, if VMRO-DPMNE rises to power. For the past two years, Bulgaria’s demand for constitutional revisions that would recognize its Bulgarian minority has stalled negotiations for North Macedonia’s EU entry.

With support from VMRO-DPMNE, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova prevailed in the concurrent presidential runoff and is set to become the first female president of the country. Her victory over President Stevo Pendarovski, the current one, highlights the extent of the political revolution that is taking place.

Under Mickoski’s direction since 2017, VMRO-DPMNE has had a spectacular comeback for a party that was previously plagued by scandals including corruption and instability in the leadership. With the country’s population having decreased by 10% in the last 20 years due to widespread emigration and economic hardships, many have found solace in Mickoski’s promise to create jobs.

Concerns over the possible effects on interethnic relations have been voiced during the campaign frenzy, especially in light of Mickoski’s combative statements toward the DUI, the country’s largest Albanian party. Representing almost 25% of the population, the DUI has always been an important component of coalition administrations in North Macedonia, illustrating the delicate balance of ethnic representation in national politics.

The future of North Macedonia’s hopes of joining the EU is in jeopardy as the electoral turmoil fades. Although the SDSM had hoped to placate Bulgaria and cultivate stronger connections with the EU, the victory of VMRO-DPMNE suggests that this course may not follow.

Given the uncertainty surrounding North Macedonia’s EU membership application, the electorate’s vote has implications for both the country and the larger European political scene, highlighting the intricacies of regional dynamics and integration goals.

Source: AFP

Last Updated:  Jun 3, 2024 4:59 PM