Zoran Zaev eventually addressed the public at 1 in the morning, after a brutal election day for his SDSM party. Flanked by his Government Ministers, instead of the mayoral candidats, Zaev declared that his party won or has a lead in 30 municipalities in the second round, and insisted that he will fight to maintain his coalition despite the major defeat.

SDSM won or is winning in Strumica, Centar, Karpos, Shuto Orizari, Resen, Valandovo…, Zaev said, with the thin list quickly descending to small and rural municipalities, while VMRO-DPMNE raked in important wins during the day. When asked about this discrepancy, Zaev insisted that for him, victory will be measured in the number of mayoral and council seats – not in the size of the municipalities each party has won. SDSM already lost many of the major urban centers, and it’s unlikely it will secure a majority even with rural municipalities in the second round.

Zaev then turned to blame his coalition partners for splintering the SDSM vote – Zaev lost two small coalition partners, LDP and DOM, who are about to cost Zaev a possible win in Bitola, and did some damage in Radovis and Gevgelija, but there is little evidence that these coalition defections are costing him much elsewhere. Zaev also glossed over the fact that VMRO lost far more votes to populist candidates who won’t make it into the second round.

Zaev specifically called on DOM and LPD, who he continuously blamed for the outcome of the vote, and on the other coalition parties, to join with SDSM in the local councils, once they are formed, and more importantly, insisted that his coalition will survive on the central level. Zaev only has a two seat majority in the Parliament, and losing any of his numerous coalition partners in the aftermath of the election drubbing could easily cost him his Government.

We have a big obligation before the voters and we will not allow anybody to take our country back. In order to preserve the security of the Macedonian future, I call on all our supporters to come out and vote in the second round. The message of our people is clear – both where we won and where we didn’t win. The people want more results and more work. We will deliver those results, but that is possible only with forward looking local authorities. The fight continues because the evil threatens us, Zaev said darkly.

He did not directly answer to questions from the Albanian language press that his coalition faces possible new divisions over the race in Tetovo, where two of his key coalition partners – DUI and BESA – will face a major fight that could further sour relations within the coalition.