The leader of Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian political party has said the governmental crisis in the country could last "years."
Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), also warned parties to avoid turning the divisive issues at the heart of the crisis into an "interethnic problem" for their own advantage.
"This is a political crisis and should be resolved with political means and not be made an interethnic problem for the gains of some political parties," Ahmeti told Reuters in an interview that was published on March 9.
Ahmeti said Macedonia's political stalemate could last for "up to four years" -- when the next scheduled election is due to take place.
Ahmeti’s DUI is the would-be junior partner in a coalition formed by the opposition Social Democrats of Zoran Zaev and two smaller ethnic Albanian parties.
But Macedonia was thrown into political crisis when President Gjorge Ivanov, a member of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, said on March 1 that he would not present a mandate to Zaev's coalition to form a government.
Ivanov justified his decision by saying that "negotiations on Zaev's part" involved "a platform of a foreign country" -- a reference to the demands of the ethnic Albanian parties to broaden the official use of the Albanian language.
The European Union and the United States have criticized Ivanov’s decision, while Russia has backed Ivanov and accused the EU, NATO, and Albania of interfering in Macedonia’s affairs.
Macedonia's constitution does not state what should happen if a president refuses to give a mandate or set a deadline for forming a government.
Ahmeti's DUI -- which had been in coalition with the VMRO-DPMNE for eight years until 2016 – said on February 25 that it would back the Social Democrat-led coalition.
As part of the coalition deal, Ahmeti said, the Albanian language would be used in state institutions and included on Macedonia's banknotes.
In addition, he said the parties agreed to elect an ethnic Albanian as speaker of parliament.
About one-quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million people are of Albanian descent.
Macedonia narrowly avoided civil war in 2001 after an uprising by armed ethnic Albanians who sought greater rights.
With reporting by Reuters and The Economist