Macedonia parties agree on path to April 2016 election, diffusing crisis

Macedonia parties agree on path to April 2016 election, diffusing crisis

SKOPJE – Reuters
Macedonia parties agree on path to April 2016 election, diffusing crisis

European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations commissioner Johannes Hahn, center, talks to the media in presence of the four most relevant party leaders in Macedonia, Prime Minister and leader of the VMRO-DPMNE conservative party Nikola Gruevski, left, the leader of the Democratic Union for Integrations Ali Ahmeti, center rear, the leader of Macedonian opposition Social Democrats Zoran Zaev, right and the leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians Menduh Thaci, second from right,

Macedonia's main opposition party will return to parliament and the prime minister, hit by a scandal over widespread phone-tapping, will resign ahead of an election next April under a deal brokered overnight by the European Union. 

The EU had already clinched an agreement that elections would be held by April 2016, two years ahead of schedule, but enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn returned to Skopje on July 14 to flesh out the deal. 

He emerged from marathon talks shortly before 2 a.m. (midnight GMT) to tell reporters: "We have an agreement, an agreement signed by the leaders of four parties. I am grateful for their achievements." 

Conservative Gruevski has been on the ropes since January over a slew of phone-taps leaked by the opposition and involving, among others, him and his closest allies. The opposition says expose extensive government control over journalists and judges, meddling in elections and the appointment of party faithful to public sector jobs. 

The scandal brought tens of thousands of people into the streets in support of either side in May, and raised fears of unrest in a country that only narrowly avoided full-blown civil war in 2001. 

Under the deal, the opposition Social Democrats will return to parliament in September, ending a boycott since early 2014 over what it says was a rigged election. In October, a new interior minister will be appointed, with candidates to be proposed by the opposition. 

Gruevski will then resign 100 days ahead of an election set for April 24. 

A special prosecutor will be appointed to investigate the wire-tap scandal. 

"Nikola Gruevski will resign and he will not lead the government that will organise the elections next year," said Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, who has been releasing the wire-taps that he says were leaked to him by whistleblowers. 

Gruevski, leader of the ruling VMRO party, said the 100-day resignation rule would be applied before all elections in future. "In our case, it means that VMRO will nominate a temporary prime minister for a period of 100 days starting from January 15, 2016."