Six months after election, Macedonia votes in new PM
Macedonia's parliament voted in Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev as prime minister late Wednesday, in a first step towards ending the country's two-year political crisis.
The 42-year old Zaev, an economist by training, won the support of 62 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, obtaining votes from MPs of his SDSM party and the main ethnic Albanian parties.
"I conclude that the parliament voted in the government of Macedonia," parliamentary speaker Talat Xhaferi said after the vote.
The parliamentary vote came six months after a snap general election in December.
The country of around two million people, which aspires to join both the European Union and NATO, has been mired in a deep political crisis for two years since a huge wiretapping scandal erupted.
Nikola Gruevski, who leads the rival conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, stepped down last year after a decade as premier ahead of the early election, which was called in a bid to end the turmoil.
Although his party narrowly won the most seats in the December vote, Gruevski was unable to strike a deal with kingmaking Albanian groups.
Zaev's social democrat SDSM party then won their support.
The Albanian parties, who have eight out of the 25 ministers in the new government, have demanded that Albanian be made an official language throughout Macedonia as the ethnic group makes a quarter of the country's population.
Highlighting the key demand of the minority's parties in joining the government, parliamentary speaker Talat Xhaferi opened the session on Tuesday in Albanian.
However, Xhaferi -- an ethnic Albanian who also served as defence minister in Gruevski's government -- quickly switched to Macedonian "until a new language law is adopted."
"We are pledging to enable an adequate implementation of all languages," Zaev said in his address to lawmakers.
The issue sparked protests by nationalists and initially prompted conservative President Gjorge Ivanov to refuse to task Zaev with forming a new government.
Under strong international pressure following violence that broke out in the parliament last month, Ivanov eventually agreed to do so.
Zaev vowed to relaunch the process of country's accession to the European Union and NATO, blocked by his predecessor.
"Our goal is EU and NATO membership, in the shortest possible time," Zaev told the parliament as he presented the program of his cabinet.
Under Gruevski, Macedonia drifted away from its proclaimed goal to join the two blocs, in particular since 2008, when Greece vetoed its NATO membership due to a long-lasting row over the country's name.
Athens says the country should not call itself Macedonia as Greece's northern province bears the same name.
The Balkan nation plunged into crisis in 2015 after Zaev, who has repeatedly locked horns with Gruevski, released tapes that appeared to show official and widespread wiretapping and top-level corruption by the then government.