Friday, December 8, 2023

Fluid dynamics: Turmoil in Skopje after Zaev ally defects

Opposition claims to be able to form a new government; no-confidence vote set for November 11
Debate room view of the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia

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Late on November 5, the political situation in North Macedonia took a new twist as the main opposition party claimed it had pulled together enough allies to form a new governing coalition without taking the country to new elections, although elections are not completely off the table. 
Over the past week, Hristijan Mickoski’ s right-wing nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party has apparently managed to convince an important ethnic Albanian party (BESA) to break ranks with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who had announced his planned resignation October 31 after VMRO-DPMNE won a number of municipal election contests in the country’s late October elections and runoffs. Mickoski is also apparently holding firm to his promise to never use the name “North Macedonia” for his country as required by the 2018 Prespes Agreement, a position guaranteed to upset all of the country’s western supporters who supported Zaev largely because of the now-in-trouble Prespes deal.
Fielding four MP’s, BESA had joined forces with Zaev’s social-democratic SDSM party following the 2020 elections and that alliance, among others, enabled Zaev to form a weak coalition in North Macedonia’s parliament commanding 62 seats in the parliament of 120. 
The parliamentary math is now even more convoluted, with Mickoski now claiming to have gathered a coalition totaling 61 MPs. BESA will be fielding only three MPs going forward as one of its former MPs won the election for mayor in the important Albanian majority city of Tetovo in the country’s west, while Zaev’s party gained the seat because both parties had run on a joint electoral list in 2020. 
BESA had been locked in several tough electoral battles with a larger ethnic Albanian party that is closer to Zaev’s SDSM, the Democratic Union of Integration (DUI) and appears to have broken ranks with Zaev as a direct result of intra-communal electoral competition and Zaev’s responses to that matter.
Mickoski’ s new bloc also picked up the support from the small opposition Levica party, which has two MPs in government. Up to now, Levica has tried to portray itself as opposed to the two main parties and coalitions.
Time will be needed for the next steps in government formation to be worked out, based on how Zaev’s formal resignation process is managed in the coming week. In this regard, VMRO-DPMNE formally requested a no-confidence vote over the Zaev-led SDSM government late on November 8, following through on a VMRO-DPMNE ultimatum for Zaev to clarify his resignation plans on his own, or face the vote. The vote should take place November 11, and will undoubtedly be very close.
It is not impossible that a number of foreign visitors will stealthily arrive in Skopje in the next few days, as one senior State Department official was already in nearby Bosnia and Washington has a very long tradition of pressing Western Balkan leaders aggressively when necessary. Nothing has been mentioned so far in terms of EU visitors boarding flights to Skopje, but it is doubtful they will cede the field to Washington. 

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Co-founder and Executive Director for Global Economics and Southeast Europe at NE Global Media.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.


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