A Macedonian opposition leader has been given the official go-ahead to form a government. The decision could bring an end to months of political instability in the southeastern European country.
Opposition leader Zoran Zaev on Wednesday was handed the mandate by the country's president and given 20 days to find a coalition partner and form a cabinet, thereby hopefully putting an end to the country's ongoing political crisis. Zaev said he hopes to accomplish those tasks in just half that time.
It's a reversal for President Gjorge Ivanov, who had initially opposed giving the mandate to Zaev, leader of the Social-Democratic Alliance. The party came in second in December's elections, behind Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's conservative party, which did not receive enough of a parliamentary majority to form a government.
Ivanov was initially opposed to giving the Social Democrat a mandate, saying that Zaev's promise to improve the standing of ethnic Albanians in the country would undermine national unity. But mounting international pressure - especially from the EU - likely led Ivanov to change his mind.
Issuing the mandate was "an important step in the process of government formation," EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn and EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini said in a joint statement.
Months of instability
Gruevski's inability to form a government has led Macedonia to be without an elected government since December. But even before that the country was deeply divided, as a wiretapping scandal in 2015 drove a wedge between the two main parties.
Zaev's proposal to form a coalition with three Albanian parties also sparked anger, and last month nationalist factions stormed the country's parliament, attacking and beating Zaev and injuring dozens of other lawmakers and journalists.
On Monday, following the announcement of the mandate, Zaev said he would begin talks immediately the three Albanian parties and that he was "committed that a new government will be focused on building a civic, unitary and European Macedonia."
"All our efforts will be to build a just and legal state, to provide conditions for the quality of life of all citizens in Macedonia with mutual understanding, and to respect the multiethnic character of the country," he said.
blc/rc (AP, AFP)