January 9, 2017 / 10:53 AM / 2 years ago

Veteran Macedonian leader Gruevski to receive mandate to form next government

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said on Monday he would ask Nikola Gruevski, the veteran leader of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, to form a new government following a parliamentary election last month.

Leader of Macedonian ruling party VMRO-DPMNE and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addresses the media in Skopje, Macedonia, December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/Files

Gruevski, 46, who led the ex-Yugoslav republic for almost a decade and quit a year ago amid a wiretapping scandal, will now have 20 days to win approval for his cabinet in the parliament.

VMRO-DPMNE won 51 of the 120 parliamentary seats in the Dec. 11 election, while the rival Social Democrats won 49 seats. Gruevski will need to seek a coalition partner among parties representing ethnic Albanians to form a majority government.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the 2.1 million population of the Slav-majority country.

On Saturday three of the four ethnic Albanian parties represented in Macedonia’s parliament agreed on their conditions for joining a VMRO-led government. These include demanding a change in the constitution to make Albanian an official language in the country along with Macedonian.

The Albanian DUI party, which was part of the previous Gruevski-led coalition, saw its number of lawmakers halved in last month’s election to 10, while a new, anti-establishment Albanian party, Besa, picked up 5 seats.

The other two parties are the Alliance for Albanians, with three seats, and the Democratic Party of Albanians, with two. The latter party did not join Saturday’s agreement.

In the election, many ethnic Albanian voters shifted to the Social Democrats for the first time since a 2001 inter-ethnic conflict brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war.

Gruevski handed power to a caretaker government last January following opposition allegations that he and his counter-intelligence chief had tapped the phones of more than 20,000 people.

Under a deal brokered by the European Union, Macedonia’s two main parties agreed to hold December’s parliamentary election.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Jeremy Gaunt

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