Pressure on North Macedonia to delay elections over coronavirus

A medical staff wears a protective mask to protect against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the state hospital Mother Theresa in Skopje, North Macedonia, 12 March 2020. [Georgi Licovski/EPA/EFE]

North Macedonia’s ex-premier urged the country on Monday (16 March) to postpone a snap poll scheduled for mid-April because of the coronavirus, as governments around the globe struggle to balance basic freedoms with safety measures.

The small and poor Balkan state, where 19 new coronavirus infections have been recorded, has already imposed heavy restrictions on public life to prevent an outbreak.

The government has banned all public and private gatherings, closed schools and shuttered restaurants and other entertainment venues nationwide.

On Monday former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who is running for re-election after calling the snap poll late last year, urged party leaders to meet to discuss rescheduling the 12 April election.

“Our health and the health of those close to us is at stake. It is more than clear that these conditions do not allow normal organisation of elections,” Zaev, the leader of the Social Democrats, said in a press conference.

The right-wing opposition VMRO-DMPNE has also showed willingness to delay the polls, which would require parliament to be reconvened to pass the measure.

“For us at the moment the only priority is the health of the citizens and secondly overcoming a potentially great economic crisis,” VMRO-DPMNE’s vice president Aleksandar Nikoloski said Sunday.

The snap poll was called after Zaev failed to get a greenlight from the European Union to start North Macedonia’s membership talks last October.

That had been the core aim of his administration — a project which involved spearheading the politically explosive move to change the country’s name to North Macedonia in order to assuage a long-running dispute with neighbouring Greece.

The EU’s main institutions applauded that detente and said North Macedonia met all of its reform conditions to start negotiations, but Paris used a veto to scupper the process.

The bloc is now making another push to get all member states on board to approve the start of talks ahead of an EU summit in May.

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