Macedonia conservatives head to slim electoral victory
SKOPJEDec 13, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Dec 13, 2016 12:00 am
Macedonia's ruling conservatives were locked in a tight fight against the opposition from Sunday's election aimed at ending the Balkan country's instability. Early general election results show the country's conservative coalition earned a slim victory over its Social Democratic rivals, but with neither party winning enough parliamentary seats to form a government.
The polls passed without incident but the political uncertainty that has plagued the nation was immediately evident with rival parties declaring victory. With votes counted at nearly 100 percent of polling stations the ruling VMRO-DPMNE of Nikola Gruevski had a narrow lead of 1.37 percent over the Social Democrats (SDSM). Monday's papers echoed their respective affiliations, predicting a win.
"Tightest difference ever," read a pro-government Dnevnik newspaper headline before adding: "VMRO-DPMNE's 10th victory." But a headline from the pro-opposition Sloboden Pecat newspaper read: "The government in Skopje fell."
"What is the most important thing regarding this election is that in a such an electrifying and divided atmosphere ... the vote went on really peacefully," political analyst Aleksandar Damovski told AFP. A close contest "will force parties to serious negotiations, compromises and agreements that will bring us back into a democratic atmosphere," he said.
However, other experts were doubtful about a decisive result. "We will have new election in a few months," said an editorial in Dnevnik.
Sunday's 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 street protests. The turnout was higher than at previous elections, nearly 67 percent.
Wiretapping allegations led Gruevski of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party to step down from the premiership in January after nearly 10 years in power.
The vote, which was twice delayed owing to international concerns over fraud, pitched the former prime minister against Social Democrat leader Zoran 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.
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.
Following the neck-and-neck results for the VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, ethnic Albanian parties will likely emerge as kingmakers, 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.
Macedonia aspires to join both the EU and NATO but accession has been blocked by Athens owing to a dispute over the country's name - Greece has a northern region also called Macedonia. The latest EU progress report on Macedonia said democracy and rule of law had been "constantly challenged" in particular by "state capture," referring to the considerable influence of private interests on state decisions.