When temperatures begin to rise this spring, political battles in Macedonia will also be heating up. The country will go to the polls on March 22nd to elect a new president, as well as mayors and municipal councils. The government announced the local and presidential election date on Saturday (January 10th).
"These elections are very crucial for us citizens," Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanovski said after the announcement. "According to the highest European standards, fair and democratic elections are of the highest importance for our further inclusion in the EU."
This round of voting will see a significant change in turnout requirements. In the past, at least 50% of the electorate had to turn up at the polls in order for the results to be valid. That figure has fallen to 40%.
Parliament agreed to the change on Friday. It also approved a requirement for candidates to submit a notarised statement to the Lustration Commission swearing that he or she never collaborated with the secret police of the former communist regime.
Political parties are, for the time being, keeping their candidate lists under wraps. Both the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and the main opposition SDSM have disclosed their mayoral candidates only in areas where they are confident of victory.
The VMRO-DPMNE says that in Bitola and Prilep, its mayoral candidates will be incumbents Marjan Risteski and Vladimir Talevski. The SDSM announced that its incumbent mayors in Strumica, Ohrid and Kumanovo -- Zoran Zaev, Aleksandar Petrevski and Zoran Damjanovski, respectively -- will be running again.
As for the presidential race, former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski was the first to throw his hat into the ring. Boskovski spent more than three years in custody at The Hague in connection with a 2001 police raid on an ethnic Albanian village that left seven people dead. Prosecutors are appealing his acquittal by the UN court.
Topping the polls, however, is former Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim. On Tuesday, the SDSM presented Kerim as a candidate who could command the support of both parties.
"We put forward a proposal to VMRO-DPMNE and the party's president, Nikola Gruevski, for the two largest parties in the country to stand behind a single nonpartisan candidate for the next head of state," SDSM leader Zoran Zaev said. We consider ... Kerim to be the most fitting person for such a post."
The election is crucial to Macedonia's chances of joining the EU. Brussels has made it clear that it wants to see honest and democratic elections, as opposed to last June's parliamentary vote, marred by violence and voter fraud. According to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the government has adopted a plan for the March elections to prevent any possible incidents.