SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's parliament has approved a new coalition led by Social Democrats, ending a months-long leadership void amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote on August 30 just ahead of a midnight deadline returns Zoran Zaev to the post of prime minister after his party narrowly won a victory over right-wing rivals in July.
His governing coalition of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the largest party representing the ethnic Albanian minority was approved by 62 votes in the 120-seat assembly following two days of heated debate.
The SDSM won the most votes in July 15 parliamentary elections but did not secure enough seats for a majority. Zaev and Ali Ahmet, the head of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), announced on August 18 that their parties had reached a power-sharing deal.
The new government will have a two-seat majority with the SDSM's 46 seats, DUI's 15 parliament members, and a single lawmaker from a smaller ethnic Albanian party.
"A period of order, justice, and discipline is coming. It is time for the vetting of the judiciary and unselective rule of law," Zaev told the assembly.
Other priorities for the new government are the economy, education, and the environment. Zaev also promised to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and to fight crime and corruption.
He said he considers it important for the new government to complete its new four-year term “in order to provide a favorable environment for the realization of the economic program, as well as for our European integration.”
According to the power-sharing deal with the DUI, Zaev will hand the prime minister’s office over to an ethnic Albanian politician proposed by the junior partner 100 days before the end of the government’s term ends in 2024. Ethnic Albanians make up about one-quarter of North Macedonia’s 2.1 million people.
It would be the first time a representative of the largest minority ethnic community held that position since North Macedonia split from the former Yugoslav federation in 1991.
After the vote on the new government, opposition deputies left the parliament and did not attend the swearing-in ceremony. They said the government's program did not have clear goals for the country's development and they believe it will not make the necessary reforms, especially in education.
"The weakest point in the country is education," said conservative VMRO-DPMNE deputy Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, citing low funding for science.
The vote ends a period of eight months in which North Macedonia was run by a weak government that was only supposed to be in power until snap elections in April. The vote was delayed until July because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus has infected about 14,000 people and killed nearly 600 in the country.
Zaev pledged to tackle the pandemic and its economic consequences and make progress on European Union accession talks. The country officially became a candidate for membership earlier this year.
During the parliamentary debate, the right-wing opposition accused the Social Democrats of corruption and mismanaging the pandemic and the economy.
They also accused the party of sacrificing the country's national identity in a historic agreement with Greece. Macedonia added North to its name last year in exchange for Greece's promise to stop blocking its path to EU membership.
Athens claimed exclusive rights to the name Macedonia for its own province. The accord on the name change ushered the country into NATO and helped secure its status as an EU candidate country.
North Macedonia's Parliament OKs New Government, Ending Leadership Void