North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Sunday that he was resigning following his party’s defeat in municipal elections over the weekend.
“I take the responsibility for the results of these elections. I resign as Prime Minister,” Zaev said during a press conference.
“I have brought freedom and democracy, and democracy means taking responsibility,” he said.
Although official results were not yet in from the local elections, Zaev conceded defeat in the most important contest — the mayor’s race in the capital, Skopje, with incumbent Petre Shilegov losing to the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE-backed challenger, Danela Arsovska. Arsovska will become the capital’s first ever female mayor.
Candidates supported by VMRO-DPMNE appeared set to win at least half of the country’s 80 municipalities, with the Social Democrats set to win fewer than 20. In the last municipal elections, in 2017, the Social Democrats won 57 contests and VMRO-DPMNE only five, the Associated Press reports from Skopje.
Zaev offered few details or a timeline of when he would resign — a move that must be approved by Parliament. Zaev said he also opposed a new round of elections following his resignation.
“The government has been de-legitimized and that is the new reality that will be manifested in the Parliament over time. However, it’s best if this happens through early parliamentary elections,” said opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski, according to AFP.
Zaev, the architect of the Prespa deal for North Macedonia
Zaev was elected Prime Minister in 2017 after 10 years of right-wing rule led by strongman Nikola Gruevski, whose government was shaken by a huge wiretapping scandal revealed by Zaev himself.
In 2018, Zaev struck a tough 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.
The name change was a precondition to paving the way toward possible EU membership.
However, the country has since faced threats from Bulgaria to block the beginning of talks due to a separate spat — with Sofia disputing the origin of the Macedonian language, calling it a Bulgarian dialect.
Both countries also lay claim to certain historical events and figures, mainly from the Ottoman era.
Zaev had pledged to make progress on the EU accession talks after the country officially became a candidate for membership but has had little to show for it in recent months.
In December 2020, Zaev received jointly with former Greek PM Alexis Tsipras the Hessian Peace Prize for the Prespa Agreement.
The pair were given the award for settling the long-running, bitter dispute between the two nations and agreeing on the name of the “Republic of North Macedonia” (Republika Severna Makedonija) for Greece’s northern neighbor going forward.
In August 2021, Zaev and Tsipras received the the International Peace of Westphalia Prize which is awarded every two years. According to the announcement, the two leaders ended through their agreement the decades-long of conflict over the name of North- Macedonia and thereby contributed to the stability in the whole Balkan region.