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Controversy Mars Election in Central Skopje

April 9, 2013

In a controversial decision, three days before the second round of local elections, the State Anti-Corruption Commission has accused the main opposition mayoral candidate of concealing his assets.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 05.04.2013
Opposition candidate Andrej Zernovski

Andrej Zernovski, who is leading the race to become mayor of Skopje’s municipality of Centar, has been accused of giving “incorrect and incomplete” data about his property holdings, leading to “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has taken place.

The commission took action after the ruling VMRO DPMNE party this week accused Zernovski of lying about his assets.

“It is clear that this is a fabrication done for electoral purposes,” Zernovski responded, asking why the state body had not started an inquiry earlier, given that he is a long-standing politician who long ago submitted information on his assets to the commission as the law requires.

The municipality, run by mayor Vladimir Todorovic, is a key bastion of the ruling VMRO DPMNE and plays an important role in the distribution of money for the controversial government-sponsored revamp of the capital, Skopje 2014.

While current mayor Todorovic supports the government-led plan and has been receiving tens of millions of euros from the government to erect statues that form part of it, Zernovski is against it.

Zernovski has been accusing his opponents of money laundering and said he would investigate the municipality’s involvement in the project for evidence of financial crime.

After the first round of elections on March 24, Zernovski declared victory in the first round over Todorovic, claiming he won more than half of the votes needed to be elected straight away.

But in another disputed decision, the State Electoral Commission said a second round would take place on April 7, this Sunday. The decision came three days after the voting was over, casting additional doubt on the regularity of the count.

Current mayor of Centar, Vladimir Todorovic

On the municipal council, the opposition won a narrow victory, electing 12 councillors as opposed to 11 for the ruling coalition.

Observers say that the tension over the battle in Centar reflects the high stakes involved.

“The race in Centar is different because it is also an informal referendum on whether its residents support the Skopje 2014 project or not,” said Zhidas Daskalovski, the head of the think tank Centre for Research and Policy Making.

The Skopje 2014 project aims to give the neglected, grey-looking centre of the Macedonian capital a more monumental appearance. Drawing inspiration from Classical Antiquity, the project envisages the construction of museums, theatres, concert halls, hotels and administrative offices as well as dozens of large marble and bronze monuments.

Centar is one of just seven municipalities where the opposition led by the Social Democrats won most votes in the first round of the elections.

Gruevski’s main ruling VMRO DPMNE party won most votes in 54 municipalities, including in the capital, out of a total of 80 municipalities in the country.

The politicians will have to wrap up their election campaigns on Friday at midnight, before the election silence kicks off ahead of Sunday’s vote.

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