Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski said in a televised address to the nation that he would resign on January 15 2016 as planned, opening the way for early parliamentary elections on April 24.
Gruevski said in the January 14 broadcast that he would submit his resignation letter to the president of parliament, 100 days before the elections.
Gruevski’s departure and the appointment of an interim head of government, followed by fresh elections, are key elements of an EU-brokered deal in 2015 that followed mass protests over a scandal that followed allegations of large-scale illegal eavesdropping.
A political crisis in Macedonia began in 2014 after the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) embarked on a boycott of the legislature, alleging rigging of the elections that year that returned Gruevski to power.
In May 2015, there was a further crisis when police in northern Macedonia engaged in a violent clash with an ethnic Albanian militia, said to have been led by ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. Twenty-two people, including eight police officers, died in the firefight in the town of Kumanovo.
In his televised address, Gruevski – head of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party since 2003 and Macedonia’s prime minister since August 2006 – said that the country had been mired in political crisis, and last summer the four largest political parties had signed an agreement to overcome the crisis.
He said that he could not emphasise enough how important it was to leave the problems behind and for the people and the state to move forward, “to create jobs, to build schools, infrastructure, roads, hospitals, subsidies, increase in salaries, pensions, continue strong growth of our economy”.
Gruevski said that his party had made a lot of compromises, and in his speech he repeatedly said that the obligations undertaken had been fulfilled.
It was time to fulfil the obligation to hold the elections on April 24 but, according to Gruevski, “recent statements by SDSM cast a shadow over this part of the deal” which, he said, was a clear pitfall to “hold the country hostage, maintain a crisis, conflict and dispute over the right of the people to choose the people they think should lead the country”.
Announcing that he would resign on January 15 as planned, he said his resignation “shows the strength of our conviction and belief in democracy”.
Gruevski said that ahead of the elections, he would present a detailed programme for growth and development of the economy.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn is travelling to Skopje on Friday.
Reports said Emil Dimitriev, general secretary of the VMRO-DPMNE, would be appointed as interim prime minister.