North Macedonia Leader Seeks Another Term After EU and NATO Wins

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North Macedonia’s citizens vote on Wednesday in an election that will decide whether Premier Zoran Zaev will get a chance to build on his success of bringing the Balkan country into NATO and setting out path to European Union integration.

Zaev triggered the early vote in January by resigning after initially failing to secure a date to start EU accession talks. It’s unclear whether he will now be able to win the ballot and form a ruling coalition. His rivals accuse him of focusing on western integration at the cost of problems back home.

The domestic drama plays out against a backdrop of political turmoil in the Balkans. The war-scarred region thought it had put the worst of the pandemic behind it but a second wave of infections have added to the public anger in this restive corner at the edge of the EU.

North Macedonia Leader Seeks Another Term After EU and NATO Wins

Whoever wins will probably need backing from other political forces to form a majority ruling coalition. That makes parties representing ethnic Albanians, who make up at least a quarter of the population, potential kingmakers. The biggest -- the Democratic Union for Integration -- has already announced its nomination for an ethnic-Albanian prime minister.

Zaev’s government changed the name of his country to resolve a dispute with Greece and unblock its integration path after decades of deadlock. The landlocked country of 2 million became NATO’s 30th member in March, and the EU published a negotiation framework in July for North Macedonia’s accession.

Yet the opposition nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party has accused Zaev’s government of corruption, as well as of neglecting economic issues for the sake of success on the international political scene.

The party, whose former leader fled to Hungary to avoid a two-year jail sentence for abuse of office, has also accused Zaev’s Social Democrats of failing to tackle the coronavirus despite imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.

Results are expected some time after voting stations close at 9 p.m. Zaev’s party has an advantage, with 23.5% support, followed by VMRO with 21.9%, according to a June 16-21 poll published by Telma TV.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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