North Macedonia heads to election with pace of EU accession at stake



Voting began in a parliamentary election in North Macedonia that may decide the pace of its bid for European Union membership, with the governing pro-EU Social Democrats locked in a close race with the main opposition nationalists.

The vote was originally scheduled for April but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Voters arrived at the polling stations wearing mandatory masks. The country of 2 million people has reported 8,332 infections 389 deaths due to COVID-19.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev put the country on the path towards EU membership by agreeing to add “North” to its name, resolving a decades-old stand-off with Greece, which viewed the name Macedonia as a claim on its province of the same name.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski opposed the name change, and also accuses Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of corruption and cronyism, which they deny.

One recent election poll suggested a narrow victory for the SDSM, while another indicated a narrow win for the VMRO-DPMNE. But both polled less than 25%, meaning they would need partners for a majority.

Zaev “had the courage to do what nobody else did. He solved the problems and opened the door to European Union,” Tanja Sotirovska, a 47-year saleswoman from Skopje told Reuters after voting.

Parliament dissolved in February following the resignation of Zaev after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations. A month later the EU announced that talks could begin, again setting no date but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.

An SDSM victory could lend momentum to Skopje’s membership talks with the EU. Skopje political analyst Petar Arsovski said if VMRO-DPMNE won, it would not abandon the deal with Greece but might try to hold up implementing some aspects, such as renaming the currency and changing uniform symbols, risking new obstacles to the EU bid.