Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said he would submit his resignation today (15 January) under a European Union-brokered deal for an early parliamentary election to defuse months of political crisis.
But the conservative leader made clear his departure would only be effective once the election is officially called.
Gruevski survived a torrid 2015 in which the opposition released a slew of phone-taps that they said exposed extensive government control over journalists and judges, meddling in elections and the appointment of party faithful to public sector jobs. Gruevski denied his government was behind the phone-taps and dismissed the allegations as a plot.
Almost a decade in power, Gruevski agreed to step down 100 days before an election that the EU brokered for 24 April. But the poll has yet to be officially called, and the opposition Social Democrats have suggested they may want it postponed, arguing not all the conditions of the EU-mediated deal have been fulfilled.
“Tomorrow, to the speaker of parliament, I will submit my resignation letter, effective 100 days before the official date of the election,” said Gruevski.
But, he said, “recent statements by the SDSM (opposition Social Democrats) cast a shadow over this part of the agreement. This is a trap to keep our country hostage to the crisis.”
EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who mediated the deal last year, is due in Skopje on Friday.
Analysts say Gruevski’s determination for the election to go ahead as planned indicates he is confident his VMRO-DPMNE party will win again.
His critics accuse Gruevski of presiding over an increasingly authoritarian government that has burnished nationalism among Macedonians in the absence of any progress towards membership of the EU or NATO, a process held hostage to a long-running dispute with neighbouring Greece over Macedonia’s name.
The government has dismissed the criticism.