Macedonia’s political parties agreed yesterday (31 August) to hold an early parliamentary election on 11 December in a step to resolve the 18-month-long crisis over a wiretapping scandal.
Under European Union and NATO pressure, parliament in May cancelled an election set for 5 June in the face of criticism that a threatened opposition boycott would call the vote’s legitimacy into question.
Party chiefs told reporters that the agreement on a December election in the small Balkan republic was reached after a six-hour meeting on Wednesday.
The country’s parliament is to officially call the election.
The deal foresees a temporary bipartisan government to ensure conditions for free and fair elections are met and would be installed 100 days ahead of the vote.
Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said opposition parties would be part of this government.
“I am glad we brought the Social Democrats to a situation in which they can no longer escape an election,” said Nikola Gruevski, ex-prime minister and leader of the ruling VMRO DPMNE. Gruevski had previously accused his rivals since the scandal erupted of trying avoid elections for fear they would lose them.
The former Yugoslav republic has been in turmoil since February 2015, when the opposition accused then-Prime Minister Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief of wiretapping more than 20,000 people.
Under an EU-brokered agreement to end the crisis, Macedonian politicians agreed last year to hold an early election and to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal.
Macedonia was among the countries that bore the brunt of a large migrant influx into the EU via the Balkans last year.
Skopje aspires to join the EU and NATO, but accession has been blocked by a dispute over its name with Greece, which has a province also called Macedonia (see background).
Macedonia declared independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.
The country is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present. The government of Macedonia however says the majority of the population are not Slavs, but descendants from Alexander the Great.
Of all the hurdles standing in the way of Macedonia's EU accession, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece appears to be the biggest.
Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – the Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece vowed to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.
Although Macedonia is recognised as the country's constitutional name by most EU countries, the name dispute with Greece has led to an impasse for the country's membership of both the EU and Nato. UK, Poland, Romania and 13 other EU countries call the country Macedonia, while France, Germany, Spain and nine other EU members call it Fyrom.
Greece also considers its neighbour to be misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. The airport in Skopje was named after Alexander the Great, who is seen by Greece as a hero of its ancient history. Athens was also angered when a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great was erected in the capital.