SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev formally resigned on December 23, weeks after he announced plans to step down following his party's defeat in municipal elections.
The country's lawmakers formally ratified Zaev's resignation a day after he sent a letter to parliament, paving the way for his exit.
Earlier this month, Zaev's governing Social Democratic Party (SDSM) selected Deputy Finance Minister Dimitar Kovachevski to succeed him as its leader, and he is expected to be the party’s nominee to become the next prime minister as well.
Zaev had announced the move after a poor showing by the SDSM in local elections in October. Last month, he stepped down as head of the party.
President Stevo Pendarovski will now have 10 days to hand the mandate to form a new government to the SDSM-led coalition, which controls a majority in the 120-member parliament.
The SDSM leader would then have 20 days to form a government that has the backing of lawmakers to face challenges from both the coronavirus pandemic and an energy crisis.
In his letter of resignation distributed to media, Zaev said "it would be politically irresponsible and unjustified...to continue to lead the country along the Euro-Atlantic path."
He said he believed that another prime minister from the SDSM "could achieve that in a better way."
During an address to parliament on December 22, Pendarovski praised Zaev’s resignation as a democratically-minded act.
“He does this even though his party is in power,” the president said.
Zaev served as prime minister from May 2017 to January 2020 and again since August 2020.
He oversaw the resolution of his country’s long-standing dispute with Greece over the name “Macedonia.” Zaev oversaw a 2018 referendum that changed the country’s name to North Macedonia, paving the way to advance its European Union accession bid.
However, Bulgaria objects to that because of disputes over history and linguistics.
He also secured North Macedonia’s membership in NATO in March 2020.
In the wake of the Social Democrats’ defeat in the October local elections, the opposition has called for early national legislative elections.
North Macedonia is currently expected to hold such elections in 2024.