Macedonia leader agrees to elections a year early

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's conservative leader agreed Saturday to hold parliamentary elections one year early, hours after his ethnic Albanian coalition partners demanded the move because they could not agree on a joint presidential candidate.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said he wasn't willing to have outsiders determine his own party's candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president. At a special convention Saturday, his party instead endorsed current President Gjorge Ivanov to seek a second five-year term.

Ivanov, who has been president since 2009, faces re-election in a multi-round contest starting April 13. Gruevski's multi-party government was not due to face re-election until mid-2015. But at the end of the convention, Gruevski said he would call an early election because he "accepts the gauntlet thrown down" by his main coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, which represents most of the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia.

DUI opposed Ivanov's re-election and, Gruevski said, wants to change Macedonia's constitution to make the presidency elected by lawmakers rather than the public. Parliament is expected to be dissolved March 5 at the latest. The most likely date for the parliamentary election is April 27, which would coincide with the second round of presidential voting.

Recent opinion polls indicate Gruevski's party remains most popular with about 26 percent support, while the opposition Social Democrats are second with 15 percent.

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