Macedonia's opposition announced they will boycott early elections set for April that had been called for under an EU-brokered deal to defuse a potentially dangerous political crisis.
The opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) said late Wednesday that long-time prime minister Nikola Gruevski had refused to implement reforms securing a fair vote.
"Macedonia does not need more irregular elections," the SDSM said in a statement.
The move threatens to topple agreements forged last year by the European Union among the SDSM, Gruevski’s nationalist VMRO party and the two main ethnic Albanian parties.
Those measures were to lead to elections on April 24, two years ahead of schedule. The vote is suppose to produce a credible government and end an SDSM boycott of parliament that began on the night of the last elections, in March 2014.
The SDSM claimed that the victory of VMRO and Gruevski, who has governed since 2006, was rigged through control of the media, the economy and election authorities.
The SDSM now argues that the April elections must be delayed in order to weed the voter registry of thousands of people who have died and to put in place more measures to ensure fair ballot reporting.
"Fair, regular and democratic elections are imperative – a date to hold them is not," the SDSM said.
But Gruevski and VMRO have already set the mechanism for the elections in motion – he resigned last week and was replaced by a close ally, Emil Dimitriev, and parliament is scheduled to dissolve on February 24.
The SDSM, which returned to the legislature after the EU-brokered deal, renewed its boycott and did not take part in the vote on the caretaker prime minister and the dissolution of parliament.
The poorest of six former Yugoslav republics, Macedonia was on the verge of civil war in 2001, when the Albanians, making between 25 and 30 per cent of the population, rebelled and called for more rights. The West then negotiated a peace and reform deal between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians.
The latest developments brought into question the deal struck by EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn seven months ago, and may stoke dangerous tensions in the country sharply divided along ethnic and political lines.
But early elections that fall short of democratic standards would also create problems, said Marko Trosanovski, of the Institute for Democracy Societas Civilis, in Skopje.
"With an opposition boycotting, with a frustrated population and a betrayed civic society, the elections could further aggravate the situation,” Trosanovski told dpa.