Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has asked the leader of the Social Democrat party to form a government, potentially ending the longstanding political deadlock in the Balkan country.
Ivanov officially gave the mandate to Zoran Zaev on May 17, saying obstacles to the step had been removed.
Zaev said his parliamentary majority would defend the country’s "unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, and a multiethnic Macedonia."
He has 20 days to seek a coalition partner and form a cabinet but said he hoped to complete talks in half that time.
The move was quickly welcomed by the EU, which along with the United States has been urging Macedonia to mend internal rifts.
The Social Democrats and parties representing ethnic Albanians agreed a coalition following a December parliamentary election in which no party received a resounding majority.
But Ivanov -- an ally of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled Macedonia for years -- had refused to give a government mandate to Zaev, contending that the coalition's agreement to make Albanian the nation's second language threatened national unity and sovereignty.
However, after speaking with a U.S. envoy on May 1, Ivanov suggested he might relent if Zaev provided reassurances that his coalition would work according to the constitution and uphold national sovereignty
And Zaev told reporters on May 4 that he was "ready, if necessary, to see Ivanov and offer guarantees that the territorial integrity of Macedonia will be respected."
Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015, when it fell into turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down VMRO's governing bloc.
The political stalemate stalled Skopje's efforts to move toward membership in the European Union and NATO.
The EU praised the new development.
Giving Zaev the mandate was "an important step in the process of government formation," European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini said in a joint statement.
"We call on all parliamentary parties to put their divisions aside and work jointly on a common reform agenda, to bring the country back on its Euro-Atlantic integration path. This is what the people want and deserve," they said.
The inconclusive election in December led to the tense impasse that persisted for months. Though the VMRO party got the most votes, it was not able to put together a ruling coalition.
But when Zaev's Social Democrats put together a majority coalition with ethnic Albanians, who make up about a third of the country's 2.1 million population, the VMRO and its nationalist supporters repeatedly staged protests calling for new elections.
Tension increased last month after the coalition voted to install Talat Xhaferi, a former ethnic Albanian guerrilla, as parliament speaker.
Dozens of protesters to storm into parliament on April 27, assaulting Zaev and ethnic Albanian lawmakers in a melee that left more than 100 people injured.
Xhaferi was unable to get into his office in the building until May 3.
The EU and the United States strongly condemned the violence, moved to recognize Zaev's coalition as the legitimate majority bloc, and called on Ivanov to do the same.
Zaev said he would immediately start talks with three ethnic Albanian parties: the Democratic Union for Integration, Besa, and the Alliance for Albanians.
He said he hopes to be able to form a coalition within 10 days.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP