- Title: Macedonia sharply divided ahead of key snap elections
- Date: 10th December 2016
- Summary: NATIONALIST PARTY VMRO LEADER AND FORMER PRIME MINISTER, NIKOLA GRUEVSKI, WALKING ON STAGE TO A VMRO SONG
- Embargoed: 25th December 2016 17:43
- Keywords: Macedonia election EU NATO
- Location: SKOPJE, MACEDONIA
- City: SKOPJE, MACEDONIA
- Country: Macedonia
- Reuters ID: LVA0045CAW213
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY RAN ON OUR CEEF FEED ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8
Macedonians remain divided ahead of Sunday's (December 11) snap general election brokered last year by the European Union to end a persistent, dangerous political crisis that has kept the country blocked for 30 months and brought the tension between rival camps close to boiling point.
Nationalist leader Nikola Gruevski, who resigned in January within the EU-brokered deal, seeks to return to the office he has held since 2006 with another win of his VMRO party. The opposition Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev, accuses Gruevski of massive corruption and abuse of power, including by eavesdropping illegally on thousands of thousands of Macedonians.
The elections were originally scheduled for April 2016 but were delayed twice amid opposition complaints that the playing field is sharply tilted in favour of the VMRO.
Zaev has focused his campaign on Gruevski's alleged wrongdoing, warning that a VMRO win could extend what he said was covering up of corruption. "They all," he told a rally in Skopje Sunday (December 4), referring to the VMRO camp, "want to save him from responsibility, to prevent changes."
"Their guilt or their innocence should be proven in trials," Zaev told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
In early 2015, Zaev released batches of what he said were phone conversations illegally wiretapped on Gruevski's orders. The then prime minister responded with accusations of treason, saying that Zaev had tried to blackmail him with support of a foreign country, without naming it, but hinting at neighbouring Greece.
Athens and Skopje are embroiled in a long-standing row over the name Macedonia, which Greece claims for its north-eastern province. Because of the feud, Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and has promised to do the same in the EU, even if Skopje restarts its stalled reforms.
Gruevski accused unnamed sponsors of the opposition of financing the campaign against him.
"I know the opposition, I know (Zoran) Zaev and (Social Democratic official Radmila) Sekerinska. How they grew rich with criminal activity is really burdening Macedonia," he told supporters at a rally in Skopje on December 3.
Without naming a specific country, he added that "those who run this campaign with the opposition are responsible for the crisis in the country."
The strife between Gruevski and Zaev overshadows the fact that the country has not moved forward with EU-required reforms in years. A local analyst estimated that the crisis is dangerous and that the winner of the election will not be able to end it right away.
"In my opinion and according to some surveys that I trust, chances are that either of the two strongest political parties can win or be separated by a thin margin and that generates much tension," Skopje analyst and columnist Erol Rizaov told Reuters.
"The division is very, very dramatic, dangerous. It generates hatred in people. That is hate speech. All in all, those promising that the crisis will be over on December 12, a day after the elections...I am most certain that the crisis will not end."
A survey carried out by the M Propect agency and published by Telma TV a week before the elections gave VMRO 23.3 per cent and the Social Democrats 19.4 per cent. A swing could, however, be very large as one-third of respondents refused to name their choice or were undecided.
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