May 10, 2014 / 2:21 PM / in 5 years

Opposition boycotts new Macedonian parliament

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia’s centre-left opposition boycotted the opening session of the new parliament on Saturday after accusing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s conservatives of blackmailing and manipulating voters in last month’s election.

Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Mary Altaffer/Pool

The opposition SDSM says it will not take up its 34 seats in parliament. Although the ruling coalition has enough seats to form a government and pass laws, a prolonged boycott could create political turbulence in the ethnically divided state and hamper its ambitions to join the European Union.

Gruevski won a third back-to-back term in the former Yugoslav republic on April 27, while his party’s presidential candidate, Gjorge Ivanov, won a parallel vote for the largely ceremonial head of state.

Their VMRO-DPMNE party won 61 seats and its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, DUI, secured 19, giving them a comfortable majority in the 123-seat parliament.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told reporters as soon as voting ended that there had been “threats and blackmail and massive buying of voters”, accusing Gruevski and his party of “abusing the entire state system”.

“SDSM will not be part of undemocratic institutions,” Zaev said earlier this week after meeting foreign ambassadors in Skopje. He added that laws adopted without the opposition would have “no legitimacy.”

The ruling coalition partners have rejected the SDSM’s accusations, pointing to the conclusions of European election monitors who assessed the ballot as “efficient and orderly”.

The monitors said, however, that campaigning beforehand had not created a level playing field for all.

During Gruevski’s eight years in office, Skopje’s bid to join the European Union and NATO has effectively been frozen because of a dispute with neighbouring EU member Greece over Macedonia’s name, which Athens wants changed because it is also the name of a northern Greek province.

However, his government has achieved solid economic growth, low public debt and a rise in foreign investment, unlike most other Balkan countries.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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