In North Macedonia, the ruling Social Democrats concede defeat to the nationalist party

The center-left Social Democrats (SDSM), in power, conceded their defeat on the evening of Wednesday May 8 in the presidential and legislative elections in North Macedonia, facing the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party

In North Macedonia, the ruling Social Democrats concede defeat to the nationalist party

The center-left Social Democrats (SDSM), in power, conceded their defeat on the evening of Wednesday May 8 in the presidential and legislative elections in North Macedonia, facing the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party. “I congratulate our political opponent VMRO-DPMNE on their victory in the elections,” said Dimitar Kovacevski, outgoing prime minister and SDSM leader, even before the official results were published.

Fireworks erupted in the capital, Skopje, as news of an easy nationalist victory spread. The leader of VMRO-DPMNE and likely future prime minister, Hristijan Mickoski, has not yet given a speech. The VMRO-DPMNE presidential candidate, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, had already come well ahead in the first round on April 24.

If confirmed, the return to power of the right-wing opposition in this poor Balkan country will notably revive tensions with neighboring Greece and Bulgaria, the latter country setting its conditions to advance the accession negotiations of the North Macedonia to the European Union (EU).

Promise of firmness against Bulgaria

Hristijan Mickoski has refused to recognize the country's new name as North Macedonia, in line with a 2018 deal with Greece to end a long-running feud between Skopje and Athens. He also promised to show firmness in a standoff between his country and Bulgaria, which over the past two years has blocked negotiations for North Macedonia to join the EU.

The Social Democrats had warned that the outcome of the elections would be decisive for the European future of North Macedonia. Wasted effort. “Citizens will have the final say on the direction the state will take,” said former prime minister and SDSM leader Dimitar Kovacevski after voting.

Since taking the helm of VMRO-DPMNE in 2017, Mr. Mickoski has rebuilt a party shaken after the flight of its former leader and ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, accused of corruption, who found asylum in Hungary led by Viktor Orban.

Emigration massive

Mr. Mickoski also promised to prioritize the economy and create tens of thousands of jobs, a message that resonates with many voters in this poor country hit by soaring inflation. Over the past two decades, North Macedonia has lost around 10% of its population due to mass emigration, with young people there having few prospects for the future.

During the campaign, Mr. Mickoski resorted to increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against the DUI, the country's main Albanian party, sparking fears that his remarks could undermine fragile inter-ethnic relations; Albanians make up more than a quarter of the population of 1.8 million. DUI leader Ali Ahmeti led a short armed rebellion in 2001 to gain more rights for his community.

Since the declaration of independence in 1991, successive governments of the former Yugoslav republic have respected an unwritten rule that an Albanian party must be included in a governing coalition. The DUI, along with a coalition of minority groups, appears to be able to capture the largest number of Albanian votes, even though Mr Mickoski has called its leaders “thieves”.