Who is it?
Not Serbia’s Kostunica. He’s in an interesting and difficult political position, and his political party has been losing support for a while now. He’s more respected than liked, and I wouldn’t say he’s all that respected.
Certainly not Romania’s Tariceanu. He’s lucky to still be in office, and unlikely to be re-elected next year.
Bulgaria’s quirky PM Sergey Stanishev is doing alright — he’s managed a difficult coalition better than anyone would have expected two years ago — but nobody would call him more than modestly popular. Greece’s Costas Karamanlis won a second term just a few months ago, but has seen his popularity dip sharply since; several of his ministers are embroiled in the “sex, lies and DVDs scandal”, and his party is now in a dead heat in the polls with the opposition Socialists.
Sali Berisha of Albania… no.
Why, Nikola Gruevski of Macedonia.
Gruevski just seems to be sailing along. In fact, he’s so popular that he’s had to say — several times now — that he wouldn’t call early elections to take advantage of his popularity. His coalition holds a narrow majority in the current Macedonian Sobranie; if the polls are correct, a snap election today would give his party a much bigger edge. But he says he’s not interested.
At 37, Gruevski is one of the youngest heads of government in Europe. He heads a young government, too — lots of thirtysomething Ministers, including a number of diasporids. And their approval ratings are consistently high — unusual in the volatile Balkans.
I haven’t been to Macedonia in a while, so it’s hard for me to tell at this distance whether Gruevski is really doing a good job, or whether he’s just young, energetic and charming. Some of his support comes from Macedonia’s large Albanian minority, but not that much — the Albanians are split between two rival political parties (which, as I’ve said before, is probably a good thing), and it’s the smaller party that’s part of his coalition.
It can’t be because of the economy, I don’t think. Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Unemployment is very high. They’ve had five years of steady growth, but nothing spectacular — average about 3% per year. The currency is stable, the budget is balanced and they’ve avoided economic disasters, but these aren’t the sorts of things that make a Prime Minister widely liked. They are a full-fledged EU candidate — the only one in the Western Balkans — but that’s been true for a while now, and nobody expects them to join before 2013 at the earliest.
So, something of a mystery. Maybe he’s just that likable? Or maybe the polls are wrong?
If we have any Macedonian readers, I’d love to hear their thoughts.