Macedonia postpones elections under EU, U.S. pressure

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian lawmakers postponed national elections scheduled for April, responding to concerns abroad that, after months of political deadlock linked to a corruption scandal, conditions were not yet in place for a free and fair vote.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski leave after the news conference in Skopje January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

In an EU-brokered deal reached last year Macedonia’s Conservative VMRO-DPMNE government, under fire over allegations of illegal phone-tapping and widespread abuse of office, agreed to hold elections on April 24, two years ahead of schedule.

To meet that timetable, parliament voted in January to dissolve itself on Feb. 24 after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski tendered his resignation.

But also in January the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, said his party would boycott the ballot in protest at what he called the government’s failure to curb its influence on the media or properly review the electoral roll.

On Sunday, the EU mission to Macedonia -- a candidate for membership of the Union that has yet to start accession talks -- and the U.S. embassy in Skopje said conditions were not in place for a fair ballot.

They cited concerns over “reports of pressure and intimidation of voters”, and late on Tuesday, 83 of 123 deputies voted to push back parliament’s dissolution to April 7. The other 40 lawmakers, all from opposition parties, abstained.

“We made a compromise,” Gruevski told a news conference on Wednesday.

He said national elections would now be held on June 5, though the final decision on the date rests with the country’s President, Gjoge Ivanov.

After almost a decade in office, Gruevski’s government last year faced a string of allegations of illegal surveillance, interference in the media and judiciary, election-rigging and favoring the party faithful in appointments to public office.

Gruevski has denied all the allegations.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; editing by John Stonestreet