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Macedonia conservatives fail to reach deal with Albanians

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's conservative leader Nikola Gruevski has failed to reach a deal with his traditional ethnic Albanian coalition partner to form a new cabinet, minutes after the deadline expired at midnight Sunday.

Gruevski's party, VMRO-DPMNE, released a statement that calls for new elections and warns against any solution that would not include it.

"A coalition agreement with the (ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration) has not been reached ... The VMRO considers that holding new elections is the mature solution to overcome the crisis and set reform priorities.

"Any other solution would lead only to new conflicts ... in an already divided society," said the party statement broadcast early Monday.

Earlier, the DUI, the largest ethnic Albanian political party, announced it was unable to make a "clear decision" on a coalition with the conservatives.

"We need more time and arguments to make a decision that will be useful to Macedonia's people," DUI spokesman Bujar Osmani told reporters in front of the party's headquarters in Tetovo, minutes before the Sunday midnight (2300 GMT) deadline.

Gruevski, who had governed continuously since 2006, all but the first two years in coalition with DUI, stepped down in early 2016 amid uproar over a scandal involving widespread wiretapping of political opponents, judges and other officials.

An EU-brokered deal led to an early election in December. The conservatives narrowly won, gaining 51 seats in the 120-member Parliament, but still need the DUI's 10 seats to secure a majority.

Gruevski was hoping to renew the coalition. But DUI leader Ali Ahmeti set two conditions: one is for Albanian to be made a second official language throughout Macedonia and not only in areas where the Albanian minority, about a quarter of the total population, is concentrated. The other is for Gruevski to allow the investigation into the wiretapping scandal to continue.

Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party rejected both conditions on Sunday.

Gruevski had three weeks to secure a majority in the parliament.

According to Macedonia's constitution, if the party that won the election fails to assemble a majority, the President gives the mandate to the second-largest party, in this case the opposition Social Democrats, who won 49 seats.