North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, announced his resignation after opposition wins in runoff elections on October 31.
“I take responsibility for these developments. I resign from the post of prime minister and party president,” said Zaev, whose social democrats head the ruling coalition.
“I have brought freedom and democracy, and democracy means taking responsibility,” he said.
Zaev’s governing coalition endorsed liberal-democratic principles as well as integration into the European Union and NATO. North Macedonia joined NATO in March 2020, but talks for its entry into the EU hit a dispute with Bulgaria that has stalled progress toward accession.
The main battleground in the elections on October 31 was the capital, Skopje, where incumbent Mayor Petre Shilegov, from the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) lost to Danela Arsovska of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE).
Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE declared victory in several major cities in the country, including Skopje, and pointed out that it would be best for the government to leave for early parliamentary elections.
Zaev said there was no need for an early election. By law the coalition could agree on another candidate for prime minister and form the government without a new vote.
Runoff elections were held in 44 municipalities, including Bitola, Tetovo, Ohrid, and Gostivar.
The opposition party won 21 municipalities to the SDSM’s nine during the first round of voting two weeks ago.
Zaev had urged people to vote in large numbers, saying the mayoral race in Skopje was key to implementing his cabinet vision and policies. Turnout in the first round was 48.9 percent.
Election authorities introduced new terminals that use fingerprints to identify voters. There were some issues with voters understanding the system on October 17.
Zaev was elected prime minister in 2017 after 10 years of right-wing rule led by Nikola Gruevski, whose government was shaken by a wiretapping scandal revealed by Zaev. Gruevski fled to Budapest in November 2018 after being convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to two years in prison.
In 2018, Zaev struck a deal with Athens to add the geographical qualifier North to the country’s official name in order to distinguish it from the Greek province of Macedonia as a precondition to NATO and European Union membership.