German envoy urges Macedonian leaders to agree on new election date

Gjorge Ivanov, President of Macedonia, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Germany’s special envoy for Macedonia urged political parties in the Balkan country on Wednesday to agree on a new date for a parliamentary election seen as key to resolving a year-long crisis triggered by a wiretapping scandal.

In an EU-brokered deal last year, Macedonia’s political parties agreed to hold an early election and also agreed that a special prosecutor should investigate allegations that former prime minister Nikola Gruevski and his close allies authorized eavesdropping on more than 20,000 people.

In April President Gjorge Ivanov pardoned 56 officials over their involvement in the scandal, prompting nationwide protests that led to the cancellation of an election set for June 5.

But on Monday Ivanov bowed to the European Union, the United States and opposition demands and revoked his decision to pardon the remaining 34 officials.

“The good news is that there is a way out (of the crisis),” the German special envoy for Macedonia, Johannes Haindl, told reporters after meeting the country’s leaders.

“First, parties need to agree on an election date and they need to do what it takes to fulfill the conditions for free and fair elections,” he said.

Both Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party and the Social Democrats, the biggest opposition party, agree that snap elections would be a way out of the crisis. But the Social Democrats say free and fair elections are not possible unless voter lists are updated and media freedom is guaranteed.

Organizers of street protests held every evening since Ivanov announced his decision in April to pardon the officials said they would continue on a smaller scale until the conditions for free and fair elections are met.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Gareth Jones