SKOPJE, June 15 (Reuters) - North Macedonian political parties agreed on Monday to hold parliamentary elections on July 15, despite a persistent level of coronavirus infections, a move seen as a crucial step for the country’s EU membership bid.
The elections in the landlocked Balkan country and newest NATO member will also be a test of support for the pro-EU policies of the Social Democrats of former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
After talks with Kristijan Mickoski, the head of the main opposition and nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, Zaev said the country needed a functional government before the autumn when Macedonia must focus on recovering from the pandemic which may also return in force.
North Macedonia’s economy is forecast to contract 3.5% this year and is expected to return to growth in 2021.
“We cannot bear a bigger crisis than this with a technical government and without a parliament,” Zaev told reporters.
Zaev resigned in January after the European Union refused to set a date for accession talks. In March, the EU said membership talks could begin with North Macedonia and Albania.
A transitional government had initially scheduled a snap parliamentary election for April 12 but postponed it due to the coronavirus which so far infected 4,157 people and killed 193.
Last week, North Macedonia lifted a state of emergency introduced in March to contain the outbreak. (Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Nick Macfie)