SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia called an early election for June 1 after legislators dissolved parliament on Saturday in an effort to end months of political stagnation.
The multi-ethnic ruling coalition had been in turmoil for months over the country’s reform path before Greece dealt the final blow this month by blocking an invitation for Macedonia to join NATO.
The coalition, led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, had backed a motion to dissolve parliament, effectively bringing down the government less than two years since it took office.
“Macedonia needs a new parliament, we need a new mandate for faster reforms and to achieve the standards for a better life,” Gruevski said in a televised address to the nation.
Parliament speaker Ljubisa Georgijevski said the election would be held on June 1.
Macedonia borders newly independent Kosovo and was rescued from all-out ethnic civil war in 2001 by NATO and European Union mediation. Western powers are watching closely for signs of renewed ethnic tension.
Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party and its partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians, had fallen out over rights for Macedonia’s large ethnic Albanian minority.
The fall of the government became certain after this month’s NATO summit in Bucharest. Greece blocked an invitation for Macedonia to join the alliance in a dispute over the country’s name, which is the same as that of Greece’s northern province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.
“With the support of the United States we will continue our efforts to become members of NATO,” Gruevski said.
Anti-Greek feelings are running high and some analysts say Gruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party hopes to capitalize on these sentiments to secure a stronger four-year mandate.
Others fear the deadlock with Greece, high unemployment and lack of economic development could feed frustration among the 25 percent ethnic Albanian minority.
Ethnic Albanians were offered greater rights and representation under a 2001 peace accord, brokered by the West to end an insurgency that followed the Kosovo Albanians’ 1999 guerrilla war for independence from Serbia.
The accord took years to come to fruition and some ethnic Albanian leaders say it still does not go far enough.
President Branko Crvenkovski and his party, the opposition Social Democrats, opposed an early election because they said it would keep Macedonia in a damaging limbo.
Macedonia is also bidding for EU accession talks, which Brussels has suggested could begin later this year.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Robert Woodward