Macedonians (FYROM) are heading to the polls on October 15 for municipal elections that are seen as a test for the new left-wing government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, five months after it came to power following an extended period of political instability.
More than 1.7 million people in the Balkan nation are eligible to vote in the first round for mayoral candidates and members of local councils in some 80 municipalities, including the capital, Skopje.
Runoff elections are scheduled for October 29.
Candidates from 19 parties and coalitions along with independent candidates are competing in the elections, with results expected early on October 16.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said it will send more than 300 observers to Macedonia for the vote.
Opinion polls give a slight advantage to Zaev’s governing coalition of Social Democrats (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), which came to power following national elections in December 2016 and after protracted negotiations.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party leads the opposition, which has been dominant in local politics leading up to the vote.
The most closely watched contest will be the mayoral battle in Skopje.
Eight candidates are competing, with SDSM candidate Petre Silegov holding a 2.6 percentage point lead over incumbent Koce Trajanovski of VMRO-DPMNE. Trajanovski is seeking a third term.
On the national level, Zaev has vowed to lead Macedonia to NATO and European Union membership.
He has also promised to resolve investigations into alleged wiretapping and election abuses that were launched by the special public prosecutor against members of the former Gruevski government related to the conservative party’s 11 years in power.
Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.”
The VMRO-DPMNE denies any wrongdoing, blaming foreign spies for the wiretapping scandal.
VMRO-DPMNE candidates have focused on “national issues.”
They claim that Zaev’s SDSM plans to change the country’s name in deference to Greece, as it looks to enhance its accession chances with NATO and the EU.