Crisis-hit Macedonia on Wednesday (18 May) postponed elections due next month, after the European Union called on Skopje to delay the polls in order to ensure they could take place freely and fairly.
The delay was agreed on by parliament, which reconvened after Skopje’s constitutional court froze all activities related to the controversial parliamentary polls scheduled for 5 June.
The EU warned on 17 May that elections scheduled for next month in Macedonia could not be credible, because the ruling party was the only one to register candidates.
“All sides should avoid interventions that risk undermining years of efforts within the country and by the international community to strengthen the rule of law. We call on all parties to find a common agreement that serves all citizens,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.
A total 96 out of 123 lawmakers voted for changes of the electoral law, abolishing the part of it which set out the date for the poll in Macedonia, which is keen to join the EU.
Earlier Wednesday, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, welcomed the reconvening of parliament to decide on delaying the polls.
“This is a renewed opportunity for the country to address a number of serious issues at the heart of the prolonged political crisis,” it said in a statement.
The election was supposed to end political turmoil in the Balkan country, but the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party was the only major contender to register candidates. Others said conditions for a free and fair vote had not been met.
The crisis erupted last year last year when opposition leader Zoran Zaev began releasing tapes that appeared to reveal official and widespread wiretapping, top-level corruption and other crimes.
After street protests on both sides, the EU stepped in to mediate a deal, but an election date initially scheduled for late April was postponed owing to opposition concerns about fraud.
The crisis deepened last month when President Gjorge Ivanov issued mass pardons to all those implicated by the wiretapping scandal, including former premier Nikola Gruevski. In response, protesters ransacked Ivanov’s office.
The European Commission said the pardons “should be rescinded without delay”.
Gruevski stepped down in January after ten years in power to make way for the June vote, and he told AFP last week that nobody had found a “constitutional way to postpone” the election.
Macedonia, which is also on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis, applied for EU membership in 2005 but has yet to open accession talks.
The country missed the chance to join NATO, while another former Yugoslav republic, Montenegro, is due to become official member of the alliance today.