June 15, 2020 / 4:43 PM / 25 days ago

North Macedonia elections set for July 15 despite pandemic

SKOPJE (Reuters) - North Macedonian political parties on Monday agreed to have parliamentary elections on July 15 despite a persistent level of novel 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 Hristijan Mickoski, the head of the main opposition and nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, Zaev said the country needed a functional government to deal with the pandemic and before the autumn because of the possibility of another surge in coronavirus infections.

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.

A transitional government had initially scheduled a snap parliamentary election for April 12 but postponed it. The coronavirus has 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.

Later on Monday, the government asked President Stevo Pendarovski to reintroduce a state of emergency for eight days, a legal step that would allow it to adapt election laws and sanitary measures through decrees, in the absence of a sitting parliament.

“The aim ... is to (ensure) that snap elections could be held in line with ... health safety measures, under the conditions of a pandemic,” the government said in a statement.

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.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Nick Macfie and Grant McCool

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