Conservatives Win Macedonia’s Polls, Opposition Cries Foul

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Macedonia’s ruling conservatives scored a double victory in snap legislative and presidential polls Sunday, officials said, as the opposition cried foul alleging vote fraud.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party won 42.27 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election, state electoral commission said, based on more than 50 percent of the count.

Its main rival, the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) garnered 22.8 percent, preliminary unofficial results showed.

Incumbent Gjorge Ivanov of the VMRO-DPMNE won a fresh five-year mandate for a largely ceremonial presidential post with 56 percent of the vote, according to the commission.

His SDSM rival Stevo Pendarovski won 39.49 percent of the vote.

VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Vladimir Gjorcev told reporters that outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski “will remain the prime minister of Macedonia and Gjorge Ivanov remains the president”.

“It is the victory for VMRO-DPMNE,” he said.

But shortly after polls closed, the SDSM party said it would not recognize the election.

“Citizens were duped and the elections have been stolen. The government has conducted unfair and non-democratic elections,” SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told reporters.

Zaev called for new elections to be held, accusing the VMRO-DPMNE of “massive buying of votes” and “pressure exerted on citizens” to vote for the ruling party without detailing alleged irregularities.

It was unclear what would be the next moves by the opposition, as Zaev only said that the party “keeps all options open and the decision will be made in the coming days.”

However Subhi Jakupi of the state electoral commission told Agence France Presse no complaints on irregularities had been received.

“The parties have 48 hours to file complaints,” Jakupi said.

International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will present their assessment of the polls on Monday.

Analyst Ivica Bocevski warned that the opposition move was not “serious”.

“One cannot claim electoral fraud when there is not a single concrete evidence for it,” Bocevski said.

The polls were called a year ahead of schedule after the VMRO-DPMNE failed to agree with its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the DUI, on a joint presidential candidate.

Turnout was 60.8 percent of the more than 1.7 million voters.

VMRO-DPMNE hopes to increase its tally in the 123-seat parliament to 62 deputies and enable Gruevski to secure a third term as prime minister of Macedonia, an EU candidate since 2005.

“We need a majority so nobody can blackmail us and we can keep up with a programme… that would lead Macedonia into the EU and NATO,” Gruevski told a final rally Friday.

 

– ‘Poverty is everywhere’ –

 

Gruevski had urged voters to back his measures to revive Macedonia’s ailing economy, which showed signs of recovery last year when it posted 3.1 percent output growth.

With unemployment above 28 percent in the country of two million where the average monthly salary stands at just 350 euros ($480), ordinary Macedonians remain gloomy about their prospects.

Pensioner Milica Stevcevska complained of “extremely high living costs”.

“Poverty is everywhere, pensions are so low and life so expensive, I would not be able to survive without the help from my son.”

The opposition accused Gruevski of turning a blind eye to corruption and pressures on the media.

But worker Stevan Pocev said he had confidence in the ruling party to “lead the country in a good direction”.

– What’s in a name? –

One of the main tasks for the new government will be to kickstart Macedonia’s integration into the EU and NATO, blocked for years over a name dispute with neighboring Greece.

Greece has a northern province historically called Macedonia, and the two countries have been at loggerheads over the right to use the name ever since the former Yugoslav republic proclaimed independence in 1991.

Analysts say Skopje can either strike an unpopular deal with Greece or risk continued economic and political damage.

Of the parties representing ethnic Albanians, about a quarter of Macedonia’s population, the Democratic Union for Integration enjoys the support of about seven percent.

Relations between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian majority have been strained since a seven-month armed conflict in 2001 between government forces and Albanian guerrillas seeking more rights.

The conflict ended with an internationally brokered peace accord in August 2001 that gave ethnic Albanians more political clout.

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