SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia’s biggest opposition party has pledged to boycott an early parliamentary election, a move that would stall an EU-brokered deal to end months of political deadlock.
Shortly before the Macedonian parliament was dissolved at midnight on Wednesday to pave the way for an early election, opposition Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev said that conditions for free and fair elections had not been met.
He cited a lack of reform to reduce government influence in the media and a failure to conduct a thorough review of the electoral roll in the EU candidate country.
“In the name of democracy, the SDSM (Social Democratic Union) will not take part in these fake elections,” he told reporters. “We call on all citizens, students, farmers and people of all ethnicities and religions to stand (together) in defense of democracy.”
The dissolution of parliament was expected after all sides agreed to early elections as part of EU mediation to resolve a crisis over allegations of illegal phone-tapping and widespread abuse of office made against Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government.
Initially, the election was planned for April 24, but after the European Union and United States voiced concerns over reports of pressure and intimidation of voters, the vote was delayed, most likely to June 5.
The speaker of the parliament has until April 15 to officially set the election date.
Hours before parliament was dissolved, opposition ministers in the caretaker government resigned but the parliament did not convene to vote on their resignations, which would be the usual procedure.
After almost a decade in power, Gruevski’s government was bombarded last year by allegations of illegal surveillance, meddling in the media and judiciary, rigging elections and appointing party faithful to public sector jobs.
The accusations stemmed from a slew of phone-taps released by Zaev, who said the government had conducted the surveillance. Gruevski denied this and dismissed the accusations as a plot to bring him down.
He submitted his resignation to parliament in February, in line with the deal, and a caretaker government formed by both the ruling VMRO DPMNE and opposition representatives took over to prepare the country for an election.
Macedonia has been on the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis, building a fence on its border to keep out thousands of migrants and refugees trying to reach the wealthy north of the European Union - they are now bottled up in Greece.
A dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s name, which is shared by a northern Greek province, has blocked Skopje’s efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Adrian Croft/Mark Heinrich