Controversial ex-PM asked to form new Macedonian government

Nikola Gruevski faces tough talks amid rumbling corruption scandal

Macedonia's controversial former prime minister Nikola Gruevski has been asked to form a new government, after his populist party narrowly won an election last month despite being embroiled in a vast corruption and spying scandal.

President Gjorge Ivanov granted Mr Gruevski the chance to pull together a parliamentary majority to back a new cabinet, setting the stage for tough coalition talks with parties that represent Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority.

Mr Gruevski will now have three weeks to find allies to augment his VMRO-DPMNE party’s 51 seats in the 120-seat parliament, where it holds a slim advantage over the opposition Social Democrats, who took 49 seats in December’s election.

Having held power for nearly a decade, Mr Gruevski resigned last year as part of a western-brokered deal to end a crisis over claims that he and his allies were involved in major corruption and illegal wiretapping of some 20,000 people.


Wiretaps released

Starting in early 2015, Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev released wiretaps that appear to record senior government, security and other officials discussing crimes ranging from vote-rigging and misuse of state funds to the covering up of a murder.

Mr Gruevski and his allies deny the allegations, and accuse Mr Zaev of working with an unnamed foreign intelligence service to stage a “coup”.

Four parties from the ethnic Albanian community that makes up a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1 million population took 20 seats in the election, and last weekend three of those groups agreed on their conditions to join any coalition.

Their demands - which are backed by the leadership of neighbouring Albania - include making Albanian an official language of Macedonia; a parliamentary declaration denouncing historic persecution of Macedonia's Albanian community; and the continued work of a special prosecutor's office that was established to investigate the sprawling wiretap scandal.

Special prosecutor Katica Janeva and her team have complained of facing pressure and interference in their investigations.

Blanket pardon

Last April, Mr Ivanov unexpectedly announced a blanket pardon for 57 people, among them Mr Gruevski, several former ministers, security service figures, mayors, judges, businessmen and other politicians, including Mr Zaev.

Mr Ivanov said he wanted to end the “agony” of Macedonia’s worst crisis since 2001, when fighting between ethnic Albanian insurgents and government forces threatened to spark all-out war, until western powers helped secure a peace deal.

Amid sharp criticism from the European Union and United States - and raucous protest marches through Skopje by thousands of people who joined the so-called colourful revolution movement - Mr Ivanov revoked the pardons.

Political turbulence continued, however, and complaints about the government’s alleged failure to ensure a free and fair vote prompted the early elections to be postponed twice, before they finally took place on December 11th.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe