May 18, 2016 / 11:47 AM / 2 years ago

Macedonia's top court halts preparations for June vote

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia’s top court on Wednesday temporarily suspended all activities related to an election scheduled for June 5 until it decides whether the dissolution of parliament in April was in line with the constitution, the state news agency MIA reported.

A man casts his ballots during presidential and early parliamentary elections in Skopje April 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

The early election was called last month after lawmakers dissolved parliament as part of a European Union-brokered deal to end political deadlock linked to a government wire-tapping scandal that has prompted almost daily public protests.

But after more than 50 people implicated in the scandal received official pardons, three out of four political parties due to run in the election have decided to boycott it.

They say conditions do not exist for a free and fair vote, leaving the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party as the only one taking part.

The European Union has raised doubts about the legitimacy of such an election.

If the constitutional court finds that parliament was illegally dissolved, it will have to cancel the election, which would mean reinstatement of the pre-dissolution parliament and could lead to further political instability.

The Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), a junior partner in the coalition government, had filed a motion asking the court to rule on whether the dissolution of the parliament, which it supported at the time, was legal and in accordance with the constitution.

The court unanimously decided it would review the process and issue its ruling within eight days, temporarily freezing preparations for the election, including campaigning, until then, MIA reported.

The tiny ex-Yugoslav republic has been in turmoil since February 2015, when the opposition accused then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief of wiretapping more than 20,000 people.

The wire-tapping exposed tight government control over journalists, judges and the conduct of elections.

Macedonians have been protesting on a daily basis since President Gjorge Ivanov last month pardoned 56 officials involved in the scandal.

The European Union has threatened sanctions against Macedonian politicians it accuses of obstructing efforts to end the crisis.

Earlier this month, the central bank governor said growth in Macedonia’s economy could be slashed by more than half to 1.6 percent in 2016 if the political crisis is not resolved by the end of the year.

Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones

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