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A deadline has passed for a deal between the ruling conservatives and their traditional ethnic Albanian partners that could have ended a 12-month long political crisis. The country could now be heading for new elections.
The right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, which has been trying to woo the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) to share power, admitted in a statement on Monday that it had failed to secure the minnow party's support.
"A coalition agreement with the (DUI) has not been reached ... The VMRO considers that holding new elections is the mature solution to overcome the crisis and set reform priorities," the statement said.
The party warned against any attempt to exclude it and the country's longtime prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, from any other political alternative, despite him being embroiled in a phone-tapping scandal that forced his resignation last year.
"Any other solution would lead only to new conflicts ... in an already divided society," the party said.
Just before Sunday night's deadline passed, the DUI said it needed "more time" to thrash out a coalition deal with the conservatives.
DUI party leader Ali Ahmeti set two conditions to renew the deal: one is for Albanian to be made a second official language throughout Macedonia and not only in areas where the Albanian minority is concentrated.
The other was for Gruevski to allow an investigation to continue into the wiretapping scandal.
Both conditions were rejected by the conservatives.
Revelations in 2015 that Gruevski allegedly ordered the phones of political opponents, judges and other official to be tapped caused public outrage.
Widespread protests forced Gruevski's resignation last January, leading the country to be run by an interim government in a deal brokered by the European Union until elections were called in December.
Gruevski, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2016, was handed the mandate on January 9 to form a new government after narrowly winning the latest poll.
His VMRO-DPMNE gained 51 seats in the 120-member Parliament, but still need the DUI's 10 seats to secure a majority.
Albanians make up between one-quarter and one-third of Macedonia's 2.1 million inhabitants, but dominate municipalities in the north and west.
It is unclear whether President Gjeorge Ivanov would pass the mandate to Gruevski's rival, Zoran Zaev, as leader of the second-placed Social Democrats or move to call a new election.
mm/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)