Macedonia’s biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, along with thousands of supporters, began its battle for early general elections at a rally on Sunday evening in front of the government building in Skopje.
The party called for the parliament to be dissolved directly following the NATO summit scheduled for November. Elections before that date could harm the country’s chances to join the alliance and make progress in its EU bid if there is a breakthrough in the name talks with Greece, party representatives said.
"Regardless of the outcome of the NATO Summit, whether the negotiations with Greece are successful or not, our goal in November will be for the Assembly to disband so that we can get out and meet the citizens [at elections]," the head of the Social Democrats, Branko Crvenkovski, said at the rally.
Before some 30 thousand supporters gathered under the slogan” We Are For Winning Macedonia”, Crvenkovski accused the ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of ruining the country’s prospects.
The SDSM meeting was held in front of the Governmnt building
The country's EU and NATO bids are blocked, the economy is shattered, citizens' rights have been set back and interethnic relations are deteriorating, Crvenkovski claimed. The opposition leader sent a message to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski that he will be held accountable for allowing crime and robbery to infiltrate the state during his term.
Crvenkovski blamed the government for not doing enough to solve the name spat. He said that a more pragmatic approach rather than Gruevski’s “false patriotism” would do more to help untie the long standing problem.
“Faced with defeat and failure on all fronts, unable to achieve any results, Gruevski decided to play on a single card of dividing patriots from traitors,” the opposition leader said. "Gruevski and the VMRO-DPMNE persistently paint a false picture of themselves- that they are the only ones who defend the constitutional name. This is an absolute lie. No Macedonian wants to change the country's constitutional name.”
Crvenkovski condemned Greece for abusing its veto rights as a member of NATO and the EU to block Macedonia’s bids to join the same structures. He said this was an “unfair, undemocratic and non-European policy” towards Macedonia.
The opposition rally comes after many announcements that the party would increase its activity and was seen as a barometer of the party's current strength.
After his return to the party helm last year, Crvenkovski announced reforms to the political grouping, which has lost every consecutive general, presidential and local election in the country since 2006. He now promised that the party is reformed, internally stronger and more democratic, honest and open to the people.
Various other smaller opposition parties, some civil initiatives and representatives of farmers, sacked workers and others joined the meeting.
The Social Democrats and their coalition partners currently hold some 30 seats in the 120 seat parliament, while VMRO DPMNE has roughly double that number. Various opinion polls show that the party at the moment has considerably less popularity than VMRO DPMNE but Crvenkovski and his party colleagues said they are confident they will seal an election victory.