Zoran Zaev is back in charge of North Macedonia

North Macedonia’s parliament has approved a new government led by the country’s former prime minister, Zoran Zaev, ending weeks of political uncertainty that followed an inconclusive general election in July.

Mr Zaev, who resigned last year in order to bring about the early election, returns to office at the head of a coalition government that includes his own Social Democrats and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), one of the parties that represents the country’s significant Albanian minority. Together, they can count on 62 votes in the 120-seat parliament. Coalition talks had been complicated by the DUI’s demand that an ethnic Albanian should be appointed prime minister – a demand flatly rejected during election campaigning by both the Social Democrats and the center-right VMRO-DPMNE party that came second in the election.

Albanians will, however, take seven posts in the new 19-member cabinet.

“A period of order, justice and discipline is coming, it is time to vet the judiciary and to apply the rule of law equally,” said Mr Zaev shortly after his executive had been formally given a vote of confidence.

The vote ends a period of eight months in which North Macedonia was run by a relatively weak technocrat government, initially sworn in with limited powers in order to oversee preparations for an election April. The election was then delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, leaving the country without a strong government to deal with the pandemic. North Macedonia has so far registered more than 14,300 cases of Covid-19, while 600 people have died with the virus.

Mr Zaev has pledged to tackle the pandemic and redress the country’s economy. Growth of 3.6 per cent in 2019 was higher than forecast, and unemployment reached record low levels. However, the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw) has forecast that the effects of Covid-19 will see the country’s economy shrink by as much as five per cent in 2020.

Immediate troubles aside, Mr Zaev will see his return to office as vindication for his high stakes gamble to conclude the Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2019, which ended a three decade-long dispute with Greece over the use of the term Macedonia and paved the way for the rechristened North Macedonia to begin accession talks with the European Union and, earlier this year, become a full member of NATO.

The conservative opposition, led by the VMRO-DPMNE party, which has never accepted the Prespa deal, fiercely criticised the new cabinet, claiming it is “incapable” of dealing with the pandemic and fulfilling its promises.

“This is a government (composed) of lies. It is a coalition of continued crime and corruption,” claimed Aleksandar Nikolovski, a senior VMRO-DPMNE official, adding that he expected street protests calling for the newly-installed government’s resignation to begin “soon, in the autumn”.

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