SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's left-wing opposition leader submitted signatures from three ethnic Albanian parties on Monday as proof he has secured enough support in parliament to form a government.
Zoran Zaev, whose left-wing coalition secured 49 parliamentary seats in December's vote, has acquired 18 signatures of support from parliamentary members of three ethnic Albanian parties, giving him majority support in the 120-member parliament.
Macedonia has been waiting for a new government since an early election in December. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won that vote, but did not secure a majority of the 120-member parliament, leaving him unable to form a government.
Coalition talks between Gruevski and the main ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, or DUI, failed over the latter's demand for Albanian to be declared a second official language in Macedonia. Ethnic Albanians comprise about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people.
Zaev said he expects President Gjorge Ivanov to give him the mandate to form a new government, which he would then have 20 days to do.
"The signatures allow the crisis to end in Macedonia and the country finally to move forward," Zaev told reporters Monday. He added he expected a "peaceful and quick transfer of power."
Although DUI agreed to give Zaev its signatures of support, the party said it has not determined whether it would join any new coalition formed by the current opposition leader.
Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party said in a statement Sunday that it could support Zaev's bid to form a government so long as he did not give in to demands to make Albanian a second official language.
Gruevski's party has said it would use all legal means to prevent the country becoming officially bilingual, noting it would mean a "redefinition of the unitary character" of the country. Macedonia narrowly avoided civil war in 2001 after an uprising by armed ethnic Albanian groups seeking greater rights.
Macedonia's people "did not vote for the Albanian language to be the second official language, for changing the banknotes (to include Albanian language inscriptions), for turning Macedonia into a binational state," the party said in a news release.
On Monday evening, thousands of people marched through the capital, Skopje, heading from parliament to the president's office demanding any future government reject such demands.
This story has been corrected to show that the protest headed to the president's office, not his residence.