North Macedonia's pro-Western leader gets nod to form new government

FILE PHOTO: North Macedonian ex-prime minister Zoran Zaev celebrates his party bloc's narrow victory in a parliamentary election in Skopje, North Macedonia, July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo

SKOPJE (Reuters) - North Macedonia’s president on Thursday handed a mandate to pro-Western ex-prime minister Zoran Zaev to form a new government after his party bloc narrowly won a July 15 election.

“I will lead a government that will not ... veer away from the road leading to membership of the European Union after obtaining membership of NATO,” Zaev said.

The Social Democratic leader, who needed time to ensure the support of parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority before getting the green light to form a cabinet, will have 20 days to do so.

Zaev, who had led the previous government of the former Yugoslav republic since 2017, put the country on a path toward EU membership by agreeing to add “North” to its name.

That resolved a decades-old stand-off with Greece, which had viewed the name Macedonia as a claim on its province of the same name, and had blocked its neighbour’s entry into both the EU and NATO. Newly renamed North Macedonia joined NATO this year.

Parliament dissolved in February when Zaev resigned after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations. A month later the EU announced talks could begin. It again set no date, but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.

A party alliance led by the Social Democrats squeaked to victory in the parliamentary election with 35.89 percent of the vote, just ahead of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE with 34.57 percent.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich