Macedonia’s political crisis deepened yesterday (1 March) as opposition leader Zoran Zaev accused President Gjorge Ivanov of fomenting a “coup d’état” by refusing to give him the mandate to form a new government.
Zaev, leader of Macedonia’s Social Democrats, expected to be able to form a new government, having found an agreement with the biggest Albanian party over a law backing broader use of their language in the country.
But Ivanov said he would not give a mandate to anyone supporting “a platform undermining Macedonia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence”.
The website of Macedonian daily Dnevnik quoted Ivanov’s message to the nation, in which he said that he would not give the mandate to either coalition, while a “platform sponsored by another country” puts the country’s sovereignty in danger.
He said that the platform of the parties of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, which is a condition for their participation in a government coalition, has been “elaborated with the meddling of a prime minister of a foreign country”, referring to Albanian PM Edi Rama.
Zaev hit back by accusing the president of launching a “coup” and leading the small Balkan country into a “deep crisis with immeasurable consequences”.
Zaev had on Monday (27 February) presented Ivanov with signatures showing support from 67 members of the 120-seat parliament, following weeks of negotiations after an inconclusive election in December.
Ivanov earlier said he would grant Zaev a mandate if he won enough backing.
Ethnic Albanians make up about 25% of Macedonia’s two million people, and Albanian is currently an official language in areas where they make up at least 20% of the population.
For three nights running, thousands have protested in the capital Skopje and other towns against the Albanian demand, fearing the “federalisation” and potential break-up of the country.
In December’s election, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled Macedonia since 2006, won 51 seats – two more than the Social Democrats – but it failed to win enough support from other parties to form a government.
The vote was intended to end a crisis that erupted in February 2015 when a mass wiretapping scandal incited huge street demonstrations for and against the government, forcing the European Union to step in.
Both the EU and the United States have urged the quick formation of a government since Zaev won majority support.
But Ivanov called on the international community to “refrain from imposing solutions that would be against Macedonian state interests”.
The president, who is an ally of VMRO-DPMNE leader and former premier Nikola Gruevski, said he had consulted legal experts and talked to Zaev before his announcement.
Ivanov sparked an outcry last year when he decided to grant pardons to dozens of people implicated in the wiretapping scandal, including Gruevski. He later revoked the decision.
Macedonia wants to join both NATO and the EU but its membership has been blocked by Athens over a dispute about the country’s name; a northern region of Greece is also called Macedonia.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is due in Skopje for talks today (2 March).