By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party said on Monday it had failed to reach agreement on a new coalition government with ethnic Albanians and called for fresh elections.
A constitutional deadline to form a government after a December election expired at midnight on Sunday.
The VMRO-DPMNE, in power between 2006 and 2016, said the most "mature solution" would be fresh elections, but it remained possible that President Gjeorge Ivanov would pass the mandate to Zoran Zaev, leader of the second-placed Social Democrats (SDSM).
Neither the VMRO-DPMNE nor the SDSM can form a government without the support of ethnic Albanians, who have united around a set of demands that appeared to have proven too much for VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski.
He has been at the center of a political crisis for the past two years, triggered by a surveillance scandal that forced his resignation a year ago.
"VMRO-DPMNE informs the public that a coalition agreement with the DUI (Democratic Union of Integration) has not been reached," the party said in a statement overnight.
"We think the most mature solution would be new elections."
An official within the DUI, led by ethnic Albanian former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, said it was unclear what would happen next.
"The constitution is not clear on how to proceed," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Now it is up to President Ivanov whether or not he wants to give the chance to Zaev to form the government."
The political crisis in Macedonia is the worst since Western diplomacy dragged the country of 2.1 million people from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, promising it a path to membership of the European Union and NATO.
But Western integration has stalled, hostage to a dispute with neighboring Greece over Macedonia's name.
Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the population. After the election, their leaders agreed on a joint platform for coalition negotiations, seeking among other things the elevation of Albanian as the second official language of Macedonia across the entire country.
They also sought the extension of the mandate of a special prosecutor tasked with investigating allegations of government corruption, vote-rigging and abuse of power that emerged from the surveillance scandal that brought down Gruevski.
(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in PRISTINA; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Dominic Evans)