- Title: Macedonian leaders conclude tense election campaign with mutual accusations
- Date: 9th December 2016
- Summary: BILLBOARD OF VMRO LEADER NIKOLA GRUEVSKI IN CENTRAL SKOPJE
- Embargoed: 24th December 2016 15:01
- Keywords: Macedonia election rallies
- Location: STRUMICA AND SKOPJE, MACEDONIA
- City: STRUMICA AND SKOPJE, MACEDONIA
- Country: Macedonia
- Reuters ID: LVA0055C5XVSP
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Macedonia's feuding leaders concluded the campaign for Sunday's (December 11) snap parliamentary elections along the same main line they followed for months - though the vote is seen as crucial for the country's aspiration for EU and NATO membership by focusing on smearing the rival, not on a sustainable programme.
The European Union brokered the elections between the then prime minister Nikola Gruevski and the opposition Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev in July 2015. The aim was to end the opposition's boycott of institutions which had escalated into a dangerous political crisis.
The nationalist Nikola Gruevski, who resigned in January within the agreement, seeks to return to the office he has held since 2006 with another win of his VMRO party.
Zaev, with his Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), accuses Gruevski of corruption and abuse of power, including by ordering police to illegally eavesdrop on thousands of thousands of Macedonians, controlling the judicial system and rigging elections.
"There must be justice and … criminals who led this country for ten years will be held accountable in front of independent courts. Not only held accountable, they will have to return money. We'll put a counter here in the centre of Skopje to show every returned dollar that they stole from our people," Zaev told supporters on Thursday (December 9) in Strumica, in eastern Macedonia.
Gruevski has accused Zaev of treasonous joining forces with foreign powers to undermine national interests. He did not specifically accuse any country, but hinted at Athens, with which Skopje is bitterly feuding over the name Macedonia.
"Nobody likes a man who lies a lot … who gambles with his own country's interests, who gangs up with criminal structures who doesn't care about what our citizens want. Macedonia has had it with taking dictate from outside," Gruevski told a rally in Skopje on Thursday.
The elections were originally scheduled for April but were delayed twice amid opposition complaints that the VMRO has rigged the rules to secure another triumph - which would be the fifth since 2006, when Gruevski took over.
Credible opinion polls give the VMRO a lead over the SDMS, but leave the doors open to a close result. A survey carried out by the M Prospect agency and published by Telma TV Monday gave VMRO 23.3 and the Social Democrats 19.4 per cent, but with a massive one-third of respondents undecided.
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