Macedonia president hands opposition mandate to form govt  

Macedonia president hands  opposition mandate to form govt   


SKOPJE: Macedonia's president on Wednesday asked the long-time opposition Social Democratic party to form a government, five months after an election in the troubled Balkan country. President Gjorge Ivanov handed the mandate to Social Democratic (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev, who won the support of a parliamentary majority including ethnic Albanian parties. The president had earlier refused to grant the SDSM a mandate, saying national unity would be undermined by the demands of Albanian groups. But he came under international pressure to reverse his decision, particularly from the European Union, which Macedonia aspires to join. After a closed-door meeting with Zaev on Wednesday, Ivanov told reporters that "the SDSM has secured a majority and I formally grant a mandate to the party with the parliamentary majority". The move comes after two years of political turmoil in the country of around two million people, where violence erupted in parliament late last month. An EU statement welcomed Wednesday's development and expressed hope that this "constructive spirit" would "continue to prevail so that the country can finally come out of the political crisis". For a decade until last year, Macedonia was ruled by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski, who is close to the president. In 2015, Gruevski's nemesis Zaev began releasing tapes that appeared to show mass surveillance and top-level corruption under VMRO, sparking huge street protests on both sides. Gruevski stepped down ahead of an early election in December, but although his party narrowly won the most seats in the vote, he was unable to strike a deal with kingmaking Albanian groups. The SDSM then won their support, but nationalist protesters took to the streets in opposition to the proposed coalition government. They were particularly opposed to the demand that Albanian be made an official language nationwide, fearing this could lead to the federalisation and eventual break-up of the country.