North Macedonia parliament approves caretaker cabinet with first-ever ethnic Albanian premier

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s parliament on Sunday approved a caretaker government with a mandate to organize a general election in May.

The government of the small Balkan country of 1.8 million people will be headed by the country’s first-ever ethnic Albanian prime minister, current parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi, 61.

The 120-member parliament approved the caretaker government 65-3, with the main opposition, center-right VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers abstaining.

Despite the abstention, VMRO-DPMNE will join the government with two ministers (interior and labor and social welfare) out of the 20 total ministers, plus three deputy ministers.

VMRO-DPMNE attacked Xhaferi in a statement.

“Talat Xhaferi is the man who is known for violating the Constitution, the laws, the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly. ... Talat Xhaferi is a man who comes from a party in which all the leaders’ mouths are full of European values, but whose actions only show how they are violated. Hence, one can only expect and think that Talat Xhaferi can only do worse,” the statement said.

The parliament accepted the resignation of the government led by Dimitar Kovacevski, head of the center-left Social Democratic Union, on Friday and North Macedonia President Stevo Pendarovski called on Xhaferi, a lawmaker with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration and speaker since April 2017, to form a new government.

The practice of forming a caretaker government 100 days before election day was established in 2015 as part of a deal between the main political parties under the mediation of the European Union to end a political crisis at the time.

The main political parties agreed last month to hold general elections on May 8, two months early. The election will coincide with the the second round of the presidential elections.

VMRO-DPMNE had been pressing for early elections, accusing the government led by the center-left Social Democrats and their junior coalition partners of corruption, nepotism and incompetence.

Before submitting his resignation, Kovachevski told reporters that “the state will maintain its strategic direction, which is the Western orientation and the strategic partnership with the USA.”

North Macedonia, together with Albania, began membership talks with the European Union in 2022 and has been a candidate to join the bloc since 2005. The country must meet certain criteria to join the EU, including changing its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority — a highly contentious issue because of the overlapping histories and cultures of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in parliament.