North Macedonia's pro-EU Social Democrats have struck a coalition agreement with the Balkan country's largest ethnic Albanian party nearly a month after elections.
Former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) won the most votes in July 15 parliamentary elections but did not secure enough seats for a majority in the 120-seat parliament to govern alone.
Zaev and Ali Ahmet, the head of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), announced on August 18 their parties had reached a power-sharing deal.
Coalition talks were complicated by the BDI's demand that an ethnic Albanian become prime minister, something SDSM and the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE that came in second in the vote had rejected before the election.
Under the agreement, Zaev will be prime minister but he will hand the prime minister's office over to an ethnic Albanian proposed by BDI a hundred days before the next election.
In order to do that, the parliament will scrap a 2015 mechanism foreseeing a technocratic government to take over a hundred days ahead of parliamentary elections. The deal was brokered by the European Union to pull the country out of a dangerous political crisis in 2015.
"The idea was for rapprochement, a message for Albanians to take responsibility for a common state. I must thank Zaev for his courage and I welcome that there will be an Albanian prime minister in the last 100 days of this government," Ahmeti said.
The BDI has been in coalition governments for the past 18 years and became the junior coalition partner of the SDSM after the last elections in 2016. Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of North Macedonia's 2.1 people.
The new government will have a two-seat majority with the SDSM's 46 seats, BDI's 15 parliament members, and the single lawmaker from a smaller ethnic Albanian party.
Parliament is expected to approve the government in the coming days.
According to Zaev, the main priorities of the new government will be attracting foreign investment, fighting crime and corruption, reforming the judiciary, protecting the environment, and managing the coronavirus pandemic.
Another SDSM-BDI coalition is considered positive for North Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration.
Zaev resigned as prime minister in January after the EU failed in the autumn to provide a start date for accession talks. After months of delay due to opposition from France, the EU in March finally gave North Macedonia a green light to start formal talks to join the bloc.
As prime minister, Zaev also reached a landmark deal with neighboring Greece to add "North" to the country's name in February 2019, clearing the way for Athens to lift its veto over Skopje's membership in NATO.
Events in North Macedonia carry broader geopolitical implications, as the EU and United States seek to bring the country closer to slow moves by Russia and China to increase their influence in the Western Balkans.