The European Union and United States have criticized Macedonia’s president for refusing to give a mandate to form a new government to opposition leader Zoran Zaev, despite Zaev’s success in forming a majority coalition in parliament.
President Gjorge Ivanov, a member of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, said on March 1 he would not give his backing to a coalition government of Zaev’s Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and three ethnic Albanian parties.
Ivanov justified his decision to withhold the mandate by saying that "negotiations on Zaev's part" involved "a platform of a foreign country" -- a reference to the demands of Zaev's would-be junior coalition partners to broaden the official use of the Albanian language.
On March 2, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said after a meeting with political leaders in Skopje that Ivanov should reconsider his decision not to grant Zaev the mandate.
"I asked the president to reflect on the way forward to reverse his decision in the interest of all citizens," Mogherini told reporters.
The EU foreign policy chief also said Skopje should "scale down the rhetoric" to prevent the political crisis from turning into "an interethnic conflict or, even worse, a geopolitical conflict."
The U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, Jess L. Baily, said Ivanov’s decision was a cause for concern.
“We believe that this was inconsistent with basic democratic principles and the rule of law, which are core values of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," he said in a statement on the U.S. Embassy's website.
"As a strategic partner of Macedonia, as a friend, and with full respect to Macedonia's sovereignty and unity, we urge President Ivanov to reconsider this decision," Baily told reporters. "At the same time, we urge Macedonia's neighbors to exercise restraint and be constructive at this moment of heightened political sensitivity in the country."
Russia, meanwhile, criticized the SDSM coalition effort and accused NATO, the EU, and Albania of attempting to impose a pro-Albanian government on the people of Macedonia.
“With active cooperation of the EU and NATO officials, an 'Albanian platform' created in Tirana, in the office of the [Albanian] prime minister, is being imposed on Macedonians," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on March 2.
Zaev on February 27 presented signatures from three ethnic Albanian political parties to Ivanov -- showing he has support from a total of 67 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament to form a new government.
Under Macedonia's constitution, the president must present a potential coalition leader with a mandate before parliament can vote on the new government -- the mandate that Ivanov has so far refused to give to Zaev.
The VMRO-DPMNE, led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, won the most votes in Macedonia’s December election, taking 51 seats in parliament compared to SDSM’s 49.
But Gruevski was unable to get another 10 lawmakers from the ethnic Albanian parties to join him in a coalition because he refused their demands that Albanian should be designated as a second official language in Macedonia.
About one-quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million people are ethnic Albanians.
Macedonia narrowly avoided civil war in 2001 after an uprising by armed ethnic Albanians who sought greater rights.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and European Western Balkans