Local Polls Pose Test for Macedonia's New Leaders

The campaign for the October 15 local elections in Macedonia will feature a mixed bag of local topics and big national issues, observers say - adding that the result will serve as an important barometer of the popularity of new course of the country following the change of regime at a national level.

"These elections will serve as a sort of a referendum; do we want the changes which commenced [with the new Social Democrat-led government] to continue - or do we want [VMRO DPMNE and its leader, Nikola] Gruevski to come back?" former MP and political analyst Gjorgi Spasov asked.

Analysts say the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party which went into opposition in May after 11 years of rule, but which still runs 56 of Macedonia's 81 municipalities, will focus on slating the course of the new government led by the Social Democrats, SDSM.

The efforts of the new government to solve the long-standing dispute with Greece over its name, the recently signed friendship agreement with Bulgaria, the push for a new law redefining the official use of the Albanian language - and an alleged plan to settle Middle Eastern migrants in Macedonia [which the government denies exists] - will all be topics that the opposition will try to utilize in the local elections.

"VMRO DPMNE will focus on a negative campaign linked to the migrants, the law on the use of languages and so on. But they will focus also on the successes of their current mayors," Nikola Spasov, from the Skopje-based Rating agency, predicted.

On the other hand, the Social Democrats, who in the last local elections in 2013 won only four mayoral seats, will defend the new government's course.

They might try to use their focus on rebuilding friendships with the neighbours, which they hope will revive...

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