Macedonia's Zaev gets mandate
President Ivanov bowed to international pressure five months after parliamentary elections
19 May, 2017
Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov, bowing to strong international pressure, asked last Wednesday the long-time opposition Social Democratic party (SDSM) to form a government, news wires reported. He handed the mandate to SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, who has formed a parliamentary majority by winning the support of ethnic Albanian parties. The new majority has the support of 67 of the 120 MPs. Zaev said he will try to form a government by the end of the month.
Ivanov had earlier refused to grant the SDSM a mandate, saying the nation's unity would be undermined by the demands of Albanian groups. But in a turnaround, he said last Wednesday that “the SDSM has secured a majority and I formally grant a mandate to the party with the parliamentary majority.” “The obstacles for awarding the mandate for a new Macedonian government have been removed,” Ivanov said at a short ceremony in his office. Zaev in turn reiterated the guarantees he had previously given to the president that he would ensure the preservation of the unitary character and territorial integrity of the country.
Macedonia has been mired in a deep political crisis for two years since a huge wiretapping scandal erupted. Nikola Gruevski, who leads the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, stepped down last year after a decade as PM ahead of an early election, which was called in a bid to end the turmoil. Although his party narrowly won the most seats in the December vote, Gruevski was unable to strike a deal with Albanian groupings in parliament.
The SDSM then won their support, but nationalist protesters took to the streets in opposition to the proposed coalition government. When the SDSM and its allies last month elected a new parliamentary speaker, an ethnic Albanian, protesters stormed the building. The prolonged political power struggle had left Macedonia without new government since the 11 December snap general election.
President Ivanov has been withholding the mandate for new government to Zaev since early March. Like the former ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, Ivanov insisted that should Zaev come to power, he would endanger the country's sovereignty due to his acceptance of various demands set by the ethnic Albanian parties. These focused on greater language and economic rights for the Albanian community who make up about a third of the country's population.
The election of an ethnic Albanian, Talat Xhaferi, as new parliament speaker on 27 April turned a new page in the crisis. Minutes after his election, supporters of the VMRO-DPMNE party stormed the parliament, injuring some 100 people, including 10 MPs from the new majority. The violence was seen as a staged prelude to greater violence that would then justify declaring martial law. However, this did not happen. Under international pressure, VMRO-DPMNE was then forced to condemn the rampage and President Ivanov also softened his opposition to Zaev.
As the formation of a new government under the SDSM looms ever closer, supporters of the VMRO-DPMNE party, which governed the country for 11 years, claim they feel betrayed by their own leadership.