North Macedonian government strengthens majority, adds new coalition partner

The boss of Alternative, Afrim Gashi [L] and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev [R] shake hands on Sunday after Alternative joined the government. Photo:

The fragile North Macedonian coalition government can now breathe a little easier with the support of 64 deputies out of the 120 seats in parliament, following an agreement signed with the four deputies of the Alternative party.

Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Zoran Zaev and Alternative leader Aftim Gashi signed the deal on Saturday.

“We have reached an agreement with Alternative for a stable government and a parliamentary majority until 2024. [the next regular date for parliamentary elections]”Zaev announced on Sunday.

He said this would allow the government to focus on on-going efforts to start EU membership talks, which requires a breakthrough with neighboring Bulgaria, which is blocking the process, as well as tackling crises. sanitary and energy.

Despite a small number of MPs, Altenrative used his position as the kingmaker in government survival to bargain hard, in talks that lasted two weeks.

He left with three ministerial posts, three other vice-ministers as well as several dozen executive seats, mainly at the expense of the main social democrats in power.

Alternative takes over the ministries of health and the information society, as well as a ministry of the diaspora. The names of the new ministers will be revealed at a later date.

Alternative will also lead key state-owned enterprises, such as the Health Fund, the Railway Company, the National Power Generation Company MEPSO, the Foreign Investment Agency, etc.

The latest government unrest began on October 30 when, after his party’s humiliating defeat in the local elections, Zaev announced that he would step down as both prime minister and leader of the Social Democrats.

The cabinet seemed even more doomed when another small ethnic Albanian party, BESA, left the already precarious government and backed an opposition initiative to organize a vote of no confidence in Zaev’s government .

The attempt to organize a vote of no confidence failed, however; the opposition failed to muster enough MPs for the vote to take place. The two camps controlled exactly half of the chamber, with 60 seats each.

Zaev, who then temporarily parked his resignations, has since tried to get Alternative, and possibly other opposition MPs, to switch sides and join the government, arguing that the country needs stability to deal with urgent issues, no new elections.

Meanwhile, the ruling Social Democrats are looking for a new leader. The party launched the process last week to elect Zaev’s successor, with a vote set for Sunday, December 12.

The three candidates are Deputy Finance Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, the head of the National Directorate of Technological Industrial Development Zones, Jovan Despotovski, and the former deputy head of the Social Democrats, Frosina Remenski.

Kovacevski is considered the favorite, as Zaev unofficially backs his candidacy. This became evident when he accompanied Zaev in talks with Alternative, pitching his name as Zaev’s most likely successor.

With Zaev’s withdrawal from the immanent party leadership on Sunday, he shed light on his plans to step down as prime minister as well, saying whoever becomes the new Social Democratic leader should lead the government as well.

“My days [as PM] are numbered, ”Zaev told the media. “I said I would stay to solidify the government majority and today I think we are achieving that goal. Now I will have to supervise the developments with Bulgaria, and it will only take a few weeks. “

With the prospect of a new Bulgarian blockade at the December EU summit on their unresolved history and identity conflict, North Macedonia remains hopeful that a breakthrough can be made in the coming weeks, which would then prompt the Bulgaria to lift its veto at the start of accession talks.

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