The two-day conference (22 – 23/12) of the main opposition party of F.Y.R.O. Macedonia concluded its work with the election of a new party leader, marking the departure of Nikola Gruevski from its leadership after almost 14 years. The country’s former prime minister had resigned earlier in December after VMRO-DPMNE’s “impressive” defeat in October’s municipal elections – a second blow following its disappointing performance at last May’s national elections. In the same time, Gruevski and other senior officials of his government are under investigation and are facing multiple charges of corruption and abuse of power.
“End of an era” one could say for the until recently “strong man” of Macedonia – or not. As an individual, Nikola Gruevski, until further notice, gone he may be but Nikola Gruevski as a modus operandi will not be erased easily from the political life of FYROM. The occasion of the succession process is living proof.
The new leader of VMRO – DPMNE, Hristijan Mitskoski, was the sole candidate running for the position, as he was the only one to collect a sufficient number of signatures of endorsement from fellow party members. The candidacy of a second party member who expressed the intention to run (and who still remains anonymous) was not approved, after he managed to collect only 30 signatures.
This happened despite the appeals of high – profile party executives to delay the succession vote in fear of …fraudulent practices. It also happened despite the ongoing debate on democratization within VMRO and under the shadow of allegations that many party members had been pressured and blackmailed to align behind a specific candidate. Furthermore, Mitskoski was considered to be Gruevski’s favourite. For the record, the outgoing leader of VMRO – DPMNE expressed his sorrow for the lack of more candidates, praising many prominent executives during his speech before the delegates.
The 40-year-old professor of Mechanical Engineering, Christian Mitskoski served until yesterday as Secretary General of the party and as the director of the country’s main producer of electricity. Little is said so far in the local media about the political direction he intends to pursue, but it is certain he will try to reclaim lost votes and to mobilise the VMRO electoral base, which is not impossible to “resurrect”, since the party has systematically “cultivated” it – often with unfair means – for over a decade.
His success will largely depend on the moves of Zoran Zaev’s young government, which is attempting to address several issues simultaneously and to “attack” policies implemented by VMRO – DPMNE both at home and abroad – such examples are the signing of a cooperation agreement with Bulgaria and the rapprochement with Greece in connection with the name issue. Of course, it is important to observe the stance of the Albanian parties, which are important influencers of public opinion in FYROM. The right-wing and nationalistic VMRO-DPMNE would only benefit if there were frictions between Macedonians and Albanians in the coming period.
An increase in the opposition’s popularity will certainly challenge SDSM’s government not only in the parliament, but also in public debates and even in the remote scenario of a referendum on the name issue.