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Ruling party, opposition both claim victory in Macedonia polls

Update: December, 12/2016 - 09:00
Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), greets supporters to celebrate in front of the government building after parliamentary elections in Skopje on December 11, 2016. Macedonians began voting in an early general election in a bid to end a deep political crisis that has roiled the small Balkan country for nearly two years. — AFP/VNA PHOTO
Viet Nam News

SKOPJE –  Macedonia’s ruling conservative party and the opposition Social Democrats both claimed victory in snap elections held yesterday in the hope of solving a two-year long deep political crisis.

"We won once again. Tonight, today on December 11, the 10th victory in a row," Vlatko Gjorcev, a senior official of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE told supporters at the party’s headquarters.

However, shortly afterwards the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) also claimed to have won.

"We are the winners!" Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev told a cheering crowd. "We have one more seat, we are waiting for the final results ... but the trend is clearly in our favour."

With votes counted at 85 per cent of polling stations, according to analysts’ projections the SDSM will have 52 seats and the VMRO 51.

The SDSM had earlier proclaimed victory in some big cities, including the capital Skopje, and its supporters took the streets to celebrate, AFP journalists reported.

For voters, the most important outcome of the vote will be to get a government capable of regaining stability after the two-year deep political crisis.

"What do I expect? I expect this agony to end," 55-year-old Zoran Milevski said after he cast his ballot at a school-turned-polling station in central Skopje.

The vote was called as part of a European Union-brokered deal between Macedonia’s four main political parties after a mass wiretapping scandal erupted in February 2015 and sparked rival street protests.

No major incidents were reported during the day, electoral officials said, although observers warned of irregularities including unauthorised voter registration at several polling stations.

Some voters reportedly faced pressure over who to vote for and local media said there were also attempts to bribe voters, but this was not confirmed.

Voters’ photos appear next to their names on lists to limit fraud, a State Electoral Commission member said.

The turnout was higher than at earlier elections, around 66 per cent.

Most unpredictable

Wiretapping allegations led Gruevski of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party to step down in January after nearly 10 years in power -- paving the way for yesterday’s snap election.

The vote, which was twice delayed owing to international concerns over fraud, pitches the ex-PM against his nemesis Zaev.

It was Zaev who released tapes last year that appeared to show the government had wiretapped thousands, including journalists and religious officials, as well as alleging high-level corruption.

Gruevski denied the claims and accused Zaev of planning a coup with foreign support.

"This is the day when people should tell their opinion... to exercise their right to vote and give their opinion on how and in what direction in the future Macedonia should move," Gruevski said after casting his ballot in Skopje.

Zaev, 42, has pitched the vote as a choice between "doom or life" and pledged to stop an exodus of young people from the former Yugoslav republic, which remains one of Europe’s poorest countries.

"This day, today is a day on which we choose a progressive, free and united Macedonia," Zaev told reporters after he voted in his native town of Strumica, where he is also mayor.

While critics describe 46-year-old Gruevski as a corrupt authoritarian who has clamped down on democracy and media freedom, his party topped opinion polls ahead of the election.

There was however a substantial number of undecided voters, who could swing the result in the country of two million people.

"This election is one of the most unpredictable to take place in Macedonia," Zaneta Trajkoska, director at the Institute of Communication Studies, said.

"Whoever wins the election will have huge challenges and issues to solve."

A handful of ethnic Albanian political groups are vying to become the junior partner in the new ruling coalition, in a country where a quarter of the population is Albanian.

Albanian insurgents fought Macedonian forces in an uprising 15 years ago, leading to an agreement giving the minority group more rights. – AFP


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