Former Healthcare Minister Venko Filipce is the strongest candidate for the presidential elections on the part of the ruling SDSM party, Republika has learnt from sources in the party.

SDSM invested heavily in Filipce during the Covid pandemic, trying to portray him as a competent and energetic, even messianic figure. This carefully built image collapsed in 2021, when the Covid ward in Tetovo, hastily built under a project put in place by Filipce, burnt down killing 14 patients and family members. Filipce also faced a long list of corruption allegations. He resigned with Zoran Zaev after the 2021 municipal elections, and the two have since been inseparable, in business, diplomatic and philanthropic ventures.

Even though current President Stevo Pendarovski still insists that he is “more likely to run then not to run”, it’s understood that besides Filipce, the second main favorite of the SDSM party is Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski. SDSM would have to get the support of its often dominant partner DUI, which may also support SDSM with joint lists of candidates for Parliament in the dual elections that will take place this spring.