SKOPJE — North Macedonia’s ruling Social Democrats have elected Dimitar Kovachevski as their party’s new leader and he is set to take over as prime minister if a coalition agreement remains intact.
Kovachevski takes over as party leader from Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who relinquished the party post in the wake of a heavy defeat in mayoral and local government elections in late October.
Zaev, who served as party leader since 2013 and prime minister since 2016, has promised to resign as head of the government in the coming weeks. He had to renegotiate a coalition agreement with parties from the country’s ethnic Albanian minority to avoid a snap general election.
Kovachevski, 47, served as a deputy finance minister under Zaev. Party members overwhelmingly voted Sunday to approve him as the new leaders of the Social Democrats.
“We must restore unity in the party and build policies based on social democratic values,” Kovachevski told supporters. “A fair chance must be given to everyone with professional ability. We must open up and seek new staff from both at home and abroad to build a new mentality in the management of the party and (state) institutions.”
Opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski was re-elected as head of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE, in an election also held Sunday. The party is pressing for an early parliamentary election.
Zaev secured North Macedonia’s membership in NATO after ending a decades-old dispute with Greece over the country’s name but has been unable to advance ambitions to join the European Union, largely due to a historical dispute with another EU neighbor, Bulgaria.
Economic growth this year is expected to cancel losses from a pandemic-induced recession in 2020, but unemployment remains high at nearly 16% and North Macedonia has one of the highest rates of death per capita in the world due to COVID-19.
Parliamentary elections are not scheduled until 2024.