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Macedonia's Zaev Wins Confidence Vote to Form New Government

FILE - Leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) Zoran Zaev, speaks to the press after receiving a mandate by Macedonia's President on behalf of the parliamentary's majority, in Skopje, May 17, 2017.

Macedonia's parliament has elected a new center-left coalition government led by former opposition leader Zoran Zaev, ending a six-month political stalemate.

Lawmakers voted 62-44 just before midnight Wednesday to confirm a 26-member Cabinet proposed by Zaev, who leads the Social Democrat party. Five lawmakers abstained and nine were absent.

Zaev was sworn in as prime minister by the parliament speaker immediately after the vote.

Zaev formed an alliance with two small ethnic Albanian parties to control 62 of parliament's 120 seats after his party finished second in December elections that produced a hung parliament.

About a quarter of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian, and inter-ethnic tensions brought the former Yugoslav republic near civil war in 2001.

Under the coalition deal, nine Cabinet portfolios are held by ethnic Albanians, including justice and European integration.

The country has been roiled by political crisis since early 2015, sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal which left Zaev's party and the formerly governing VMRO-DPMNE conservatives with irreconcilable differences. Macedonia has been without an elected government since December, when former prime minister Nikola Gruevski's conservative party won elections but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

The 42-year-old Zaev has pledged to focus on the economy, strengthening public institutions and joining the European Union and NATO. He wants to start negotiations with the EU and NATO ``as soon as possible.''

Macedonia was granted EU candidate status in 2005. Neighboring Greece has blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO due to a long-running dispute regarding Macedonia's name, and has raised objections to its joining the EU.