SKOPJE -- Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov says he has decided he will not give a mandate to Social Democratic Union (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev to try to form a government, despite documents presented by Zaev showing he has formed a coalition that would control a majority of seats in parliament.
Ivanov -- a member of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party -- made the announcement at a press conference in Skopje on March 1.
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.
But under Macedonia's constitution, the president must present a potential coalition leader with a mandate to form a government before the proposed government is voted upon by parliament.
The ethnic Albanian parties have made their support for Zaev's proposed coalition government conditional on the enactment of a law that backs broader use of the Albanian language in Macedonia.
Ivanov justified his decision to withhold the mandate from Zaev, saying that "negotiations on Zaev's part" involved "a platform of a foreign country" -- a reference to the Albanian-language demands of Zaev's would-be junior coalition partners.
The nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, has denounced calls for making Albanian the second official language of Macedonia.
Since Zaev announced his coalition deal on February 27, thousands of VMRO-DPMNE supporters have staged street protests in Skopje against the calls from the ethnic Albanian parties to make Albanian the country’s second official language.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party won the most votes in Macedonia’s December election, taking 51 seats in parliament.
But that was not enough to secure a 61-seat parliamentary majority -- and Gruevski was unable through coalition talks to gather the support of 10 other lawmakers needed to form a government.
Talks between Gruevski and the main ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), failed when Gruevski refused to accept the DUI’s demand for Albanian to be declared a second official language in Macedonia.
Macedonia's constitution stipulates that if the largest party in parliament fails to build a governing coalition, the second-largest party receives the opportunity to create a government that has support from a parliamentary majority.
Zaev's Social Democratic Union won 49 seats in December's closely contested election, and in his coalition negotiations Zaev received vows of support from a total of 18 ethnic Albanian lawmakers on condition that their proposed government would pass a law that broadens the use of the Albanian language in Macedonia.
Gruevski has said the deal Zaev made with ethnic Albanian parties is a threat to Macedonia and called on his supporters to launch protests to block Zaev from forming a government.
The VMRO-DPMNE party also has vowed to use all legal means to prevent Macedonia from becoming officially bilingual, saying such a development would "redefine the unitary character" of the country.
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.