Macedonian parliament votes for early election

Other News Materials 12 April 2008 06:51

( Reuters ) - Macedonian legislators voted to dissolve parliament on Saturday, clearing the way for an early election after months of political stagnation and rejection of the country's NATO membership bid.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's fractious ruling coalition backed the motion, which ushers in a new period of political uncertainty in the Balkan republic less than two years since the government took office. The poll must be held within two months.

"I can state that parliament has accepted the decision to dissolve," parliament speaker Ljubisa Georgijevski said after 70 of the 120 deputies voted for the motion.

The multi-ethnic government has been in turmoil for months over the country's reform path and rights for the large ethnic Albanian minority.

The final blow occurred in early April when Greece blocked an invitation for Macedonia to join NATO in a dispute over the country's name, which is the same as that of Greece's northern province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The two have been unable to agree on a name since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Macedonia borders newly independent Kosovo, and was rescued from an all-out ethnic civil war in 2001 by NATO and European Union mediation. Western powers are watching closely for signs of renewed ethnic tension.

"Over the next few days we will coordinate when to hold the election," said a senior government source, declining to be named. "Most probably we will go to the polls on June 1 or 8."

Anti-Greek feelings are running high and some analysts say Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party hopes to capitalize on the sentiment to secure a new, stronger four-year mandate.

Others fear the deadlock with Greece, high unemployment and lack of economic development could feed frustration among the 25 percent ethnic Albanian minority.

Ethnic Albanians were offered greater rights and representation under a 2001 peace accord, brokered by the West to end an insurgency that followed the Kosovo Albanians' 1999 guerrilla war for independence from Serbia.

The accord took years to come to fruition, and some ethnic Albanian leaders say it still does not go far enough.

President Branko Crvenkovski and his party, the opposition Social Democrats, opposed an early election, saying it would keep the country in a damaging limbo.

Macedonia is also bidding for EU accession talks, which Brussels has suggested could begin later this year.