SKOPJE, MACEDONIA —
Macedonia's prime minister is due to step down Friday before an early election on April 24, under the timeline of last year's Western-brokered deal to solve a deep political crisis triggered by a wiretapping scandal.
Nikola Gruevski has agreed to hand over to a candidate from his conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, who will head a caretaker government.
Last July's deal with the country's social-democrat main opposition, following mediation from the European Union and the U.S., called for Gruevski to resign 100 days before the polls.
EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn is due in Macedonia on Friday for talks with Gruevski and opposition leaders on implementing the agreement.
Hahn said Friday remains a key deadline.
"I expect that the outstanding elements of the political agreement will be resolved before or during my visit, allowing the election authorities to organize credible elections according to the agreed timetable,'' he said Thursday.
But, it is still unclear whether Gruevski, who has held the post for almost 10 years, will actually step down.
Opposition leader Zoran Zaev has challenged the April date for an early election, claiming that crucial parts of the agreement meant to guarantee fair elections, such as revising the electoral roll and media reforms, aren't yet in place.
VMRO-DPMNE says if the election is postponed, the deal is off and the caretaker government won't be formed.
The political crisis stemmed from opposition allegations that the government illegally wire-tapped 20,000 people, including police, judges, journalists and foreign diplomats.
Zaev says the conversations allegedly reveal corruption at the highest level of government, including mismanagement of funds, electoral fraud and spurious criminal prosecutions of political opponents.
The government denies the claims. Gruevski says the recordings were fabricated with the help of foreign spies, and has accused Zaev of plotting a coup.