Venko Filipce, who leads the SDSM party list in the 4th electoral district, made a statement widely interpreted as the first shot of the upcoming leadership challenge in SDSM.

During a rally, the former Healthcare Minister who was the recipient of enormous PR investment by SDSM during the Covid crisis and is still considered a star in the party despite his record of corruption, incompetence and the disastrous Tetovo hospital fire, said that the party will soon analyze the outcome of the elections. SDSM suffered a disastrous result in the first round of the presidential elections when their candidate Stevo Pendarovski lost by a more than 2:1 margin against VMRO-DPMNE candidate Gordana Siljanovska – Davkova, and the party is now expected to do equally badly in the general elections on May 8th.

The result of the first round of the presidential elections was beneath all expectations and puts all of us, all party members, to the test. We will have time to analyze what we did wrong, we will have time to change things and to rebuild the citizens’ trust in the party. We will have to do that from the first day after the elections, Filipce said during a rally yesterday. Kovacevski himself also made a statement rebuking the party “comrades” for their actions in this difficult period.

Filipce is seen as one of the main contenders for the leadership fight in SDSM, as it is assumed that Dimitar Kovacevski won’t survive a general elections defeat of the magnitude that the party experienced in the first round of the presidential elections. Former leader Zoran Zaev and Filipce are extremely close, and it is expected that Zaev will try to take the party back using Filipce as his proxy. A well known neuro-surgeon, Filipce used his career in the campaign, posting pictures with his patients and even doing diagnosis on the fly, reviewing CAT scans during campaign events. But his image was badly tarnished by the series of corruption allegations that included an attempt to purchase Covid vaccines from China through a dubious company, that resulted in Macedonia waiting for months to receive vaccines after other countries in the region had them on stock. Macedonian citizens were reduced to driving to Serbia, which opened its vaccination points for Macedonian citizens.

Filipce was unable to explain the origin of his personal wealth, as he is building a complex of villas in a very expensive part of Skopje, and was the man responsible for managing the construction of a dozen improvised Covid hospitals through a company owned by a Vice Prime Minister of the Government in which he sat. One of the hospitals burnt down on the even when Macedonia was celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence – September 8th 2021, killing 14 patients and family members. And in a recent podcast, that broke all viewership records, a convicted extortionist close to the SDSM party testified that he directly negotiated the sale of the second largest public hospital in Macedonia between Filipce and an oligarch.

Filipce is likely to do slightly less bad in the elections than other contenders for the top party spot, like former Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski in the north-eastern 2nd district, whose prospects were destroyed by the mishandling of the passports crisis. Other potential challengers for the leadership are not immediately clear, but it’s likely that the elitist Skopje wing of the party won’t sit the post-election developments out.