Macedonian president gives mandate to Social Democrat leader to form government

Macedonian president gives mandate to Social Democrat leader to form government
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 17, 2017

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov gave the mandate to form a new government to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev on May 17, after months of procrastination.

The move is expected to put an end to the political deadlock in Macedonia since the December 11 general election and which has threatened to plunge the country into another bout of ethnic strife. Zaev is planning to form a government with three ethnic Albanian parties, but had been repeatedly denied a mandate by the president.

All the obstacles to giving the mandate to Zaev have now been removed, the president’s office said in the statement.

Previously, Ivanov refused to grant a mandate to Zaev on the grounds that his acceptance of conditions set by the ethnic Albanian parties for supporting his government would lead to the destabilisation and federalisation of Macedonia.

However, Zaev said that he had sent written guarantees that his new government would preserve the unitary character and sovereignty of the country, according to a video broadcast on local TV stations. 

Macedonia has been without a government since the December election. Zaev now says he will propose the new government’s composition to the parliament within 10 days. His Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the three ethnic Albanian parties have a majority of 67 MPs in the 120-seat parliament.

Zaev has promised that will reinstate the rule of law in the country and will make institutions work properly. “As a future prime minister I am making commitment the new government will build a civil, unitary and European Macedonia,” Zaev said in the party statement, after he was given the mandate.

He said the focus will be on building a just and legal state, creating conditions for better lives for all citizens, and respect for the multiethnic character of the country. About a quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian. “This day is a new beginning for Macedonia,” Zaev said.

May 17 was a symbolic date for obtaining the mandate, as it is the two-year anniversary of when the SDSM, then in opposition, launched the first huge protest as part of the Colourful Revolution movement to topple the conservative government led by then prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

Changes at the top

Ivanov is close to the Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled the country since 2006 and was highly reluctant to relinquish its hold on power. 

Nikola Todorov, an MP from VMRO, said at a news conference that the party does not believe in Zaev’s guarantees. VMRO also objects that the guarantees were signed only by Zaev and not by the ethnic Albanian parties.

VMRO narrowly won the December election, but failed to form a government with its former partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). The party, which won two more seats than the SDSM in December, has obstructed Zaev from forming a new government. The party has been pushing for a new snap parliamentary election to be held at the same time as the planned local elections later this year.

The EU has defined Macedonia as being in state of capture under the rule of the previous government. Government-run institutions, particularly the courts, and most of the media were under the control of VMRO, which drew huge criticism among international community, experts and the local population.

Gruevski's VMRO-led government has also been criticised for lavish spending in the last years, particularly for the grandiose Skopje 2014 projects, costing over €700mn, that revamped the city with baroque-style facades and erecting a numerous monuments and statues in the capital.

Ethnic tensions

Obtaining the mandate was not an easy task for Zaev. The platform adopted on January 7 by the hree ethnic Albanian parties, dubbed the “Tirana platform” by its critics, fuelled tension among some of the population and in VMRO ranks.

The name of the platform came from the fact it was signed in Tirana, in consultation with Albanian and Kosovan political leaders. The document has sparked mass protests across the country since February 27, organised by civil organisation For United Macedonia, which holds similar views to VMRO.

For protestors, who included many renowned artists, the demands in the platform were illogical and provocative. They include making the Albanian language official in the whole country, and changes to the anthem, flag and other symbols.

However, making such changes seems almost impossible, as they would need a two-thirds majority in the parliament, which would be impossible without VMRO MPs, who are sternly against them.

The situation erupted on April 27, when the majority in the parliament elected a new speaker, Talat Xhaferi from the DUI, in a non-standard procedure, as VMRO MPs obstructed the process. The election led to serious incidents after a group of demonstrators, which participated in the For United Macedonia-organised protest, stormed the parliament and attacked some MPs from the SDSM and ethnic Albanian parties. 

Over 100 people were injured, including Zaev. Ziadin Sela, an MP from the Alliance for Albanians, was the most seriously injured and has only recently been released from hospital. The SDSM blamed VMRO for being behind the bloody incidents in the parliament.

However, signs of a breakthrough were seen on May 11, when Zaev said he was preparing to submit guarantees to Ivanov to obtain a mandate and form a government as a way for the country to avert deepening of the long-standing crisis.

Now it seems that Ivanov, also obviously under pressure from the international community, has been assured that the sovereignty of the country won’t be jeopardised.

The EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn welcomed Ivanov's to give the mandate to Zaev as an important step in the process of government formation.

“We expect now a swift formation of the government committed to implementing all parts of the Przino agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities,” Mogherini and Hahn said in a joint statement.

They hoped that “this constructive spirit will continue to prevail so that the country can finally come out of the political crisis”."

Zaev, 42, an economist and businessman, was an MP from 2003 to 2005, then mayor of the eastern town of Strumica from 2005 until the beginning of 2017. He was elected as SDSM leader in June 2013. A party member since 2006, he became SDSM vice president in 2008.

In 2015, Zaev released a series of recorded conversation which revealed high-level crime among VMRO-DPMNE officials, including then Prime Minister Gruevski. The recordings sparked a huge wiretapping scandal, which was the start of one of the most serious political crisis in Macedonia that has endured until today.