Macedonia’s snap elections were postponed by more than a month late yesterday (23 February), after the opposition threatened to boycott the polls over concerns they were open to fraud.
The vote is part of a European Union-backed deal reached last year between the government and the opposition to end months of political turmoil in the former Yugoslav republic of about 2.1 million people.
The early parliamentary polls, initially agreed for 24 April, were delayed until June 5 after the main opposition party, Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), threatened to boycott them, complaining they could not be free and fair.
The ruling VMRO-DPMNE agreed to postpone the vote after US and EU ambassadors to the country said the preparations for the polls had not progressed enough to hold a “credible” vote by April.
Ambassadors from the EU and US said they were particularly concerned at “reports of pressure and intimidation of voters and others”, and about the lack of an agreement “on media reforms, to ensure a more level playing field”.
The ruling “VMPRO-DPMNE decided to change the election date to 5 June,” its leader and former prime minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters.
Lawmakers voted late on Tuesday to dissolve the parliament on 7 April, instead of the previously agreed 24 February.
The SDSM boycotted parliament after Macedonia’s last polls in 2014, won by VMRO-DPMNE, saying the polls had been marred by fraud.
The crisis deepened last year when the opposition accused Gruevski of wire-tapping and high-level corruption. The government denied the allegations, accusing the main opposition leader of spying and of trying to destabilise the country.
The row triggered rival protests on the streets of Skopje and eventually prompted the European Union to step in and mediate.
Last month Gruevski stepped down from the post of prime minister to pave the way to the elections, in accordance with the deal.
Macedonia has been an EU candidate nation since 2005 but has been in a decade-long stalemate in the process of accession to both the European Union and NATO due to a veto by Greece. Athens denies its neighbour the use of the name Macedonia, claiming to have a historical right to it.