After two days of heated debate, lawmakers voted 62-51 in the 120-member assembly in favour of the new government led by Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, 46. Seven members were absent.

The new Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev (bottom, C), poses for a family photo with the ministers of his cabinet after his party won a victory over right-wing rivals in July, in Skopje on August 30, 2020.
The new Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev (bottom, C), poses for a family photo with the ministers of his cabinet after his party won a victory over right-wing rivals in July, in Skopje on August 30, 2020. (AFP)

North Macedonia's Social Democrats have returned to power after parliament approved their new coalition, ending a months-long leadership void amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote brings Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, credited for putting the Balkan state on an EU path, back into the top office after his party narrowly won a victory over right-wing rivals in July.

"A period of order, justice and discipline is coming, it is time for vetting of the judiciary and unselective rule of law," Zaev told the assembly.

His governing coalition, a tie-up with the largest party representing the ethnic Albanian minority, was approved by 62 votes in the 120-seat assembly following two days of heated debate that ended just before a midnight deadline.

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Covid-19 pandemic

The vote ends a period of eight months in which North Macedonia was run by a weak technical government, who was only supposed to be in power until April, when a snap election was initially scheduled.

The vote was then delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic until July, leaving the Balkan state without sturdy leadership as the virus took its toll.

After an upsurge of coronavirus cases in June and July, the virus has infected some 14,000 and killed nearly 600 in the country of around 2 million.

Zaev pledged to tackle the pandemic and its economic effects, as well as make progress on EU accession talks after the country officially became a candidate for membership earlier this year.

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Polarised society

During the parliamentary debate, the right-wing opposition accused the Social Democrats of corruption and mismanaging the pandemic and economy.

They also accused Zaev's camp of sacrificing the country's national identity in a historic agreement with Greece.

The July election was the first since Zaev's party added "North" to its name early last year in exchange for Greece's promise to stop blocking its path to EU membership.

Athens claimed exclusive rights to the name Macedonia for its own province.

The accord ushered the country into NATO and helped secure its status as an EU candidate country.

But it deepened fault lines in the polarised society, angering critics on the right.

Source: AFP