Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s party is on course for victory in the municipal vote that was held after a political crisis, although the opposition has alleged foul play.Preliminary data released on Monday by Macedonia’s State Election Commission, DIK, showed that Gruevski’s main ruling VMRO DPMNE party had won the most votes in 54 municipalities, including in the capital Skopje.
The announcement came after 97 per cent of the ballots cast in Sunday’s polls were counted.
The opposition Social Democrats won the most votes in seven municipalities, while the ruling coalition’s junior ethnic Albanian partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, won the most votes in 12 municipalities, and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians won in one.
The Democratic Party of Turks, the Alliance of Roma and the National Democratic Party have most votes in one municipality each. Independent candidates have a lead in two municipalities.
In Skopje, the prize jewel of the local elections, VMRO DPMNE mayoral candidate Koce Trajanovski won over 49 per cent of the votes, Jani Makraduli from the Social Democrats won 29 per cent and Artan Grubi from the DIU won 12 per cent, according to the DIK data.
Voters were choosing mayors and municipal council members in 80 municipalities across Macedonia.
Gruevski had already claimed victory late Sunday after the polls closed and said his party hoped to seal its win in the second round run-offs in two weeks’ time.
“The victory had exceeded all our previous expectations,” Gruevski told a celebrating crowd in Skopje.
The main opposition on the other hand declared straight victory in the south-eastern town of Strumica and said it was hoping for victory in the first round in Skopje’s Centar municipality as well. It said it was in a lead in an additional six municipalities.
The party alleged foul play by the government, saying it would file complaints to the State Election Commission, DIK, over the many irregularities it said it had registered.
“All scenarios are open, including one in which we boycott the second round,” the opposition Social Democrats’ leader Branko Crvenkovski told his supporters at a press conference after midnight on Sunday.
“Our main battle continues to be for setting up early general elections that would topple this undemocratic regime, and we will carry on to the end,” Crvenkovski said.
The chief of the DIK, Boris Kondarko, said there had been a high turnout of around 68 per cent.
“However, a large number of serious obstructions of the election process were present,” Kondarko said, adding that the commission was working to investigate these in more detail.
Observers from the NGOs MOST and MCMS also noted some cases of election irregularities, ranging from group voting to broken electoral stamps, a lack of voting slips and voters’ names being read out publicly.
In the first reaction to the vote from an EU official, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Macedonia, Richard Howitt, expressed satisfaction about the NGOs’ initial assessments.
“I’m pleased local election observers in fYR Macedonia report ‘no serious incidents’ on polling day,” Howitt wrote on Twitter.
The polls that came after a political crisis and ethnic tensions that shook the country in recent months.
Some 350 mayoral candidates were running for office. The vote was monitored by 8,400 local election monitors and 410 foreign observers.
In the Albanian political bloc, the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, declared “great victory” over its bitter political rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.
The DUI head Ali Ahmeti declared victory in the western, dominantly ethnic Albanian town of Tetovo, and said that its ethnic coalition with the DPA in the town of Kicevo had borne fruit against a coalition gathered around an ethnic Macedonian candidate.
“I would like to thank our diaspora,” Ahmeti told a press conference at his party’s offices, saying that the victory in Kicevo which would deliver the town’s first ever Albanian mayor would not have been possible without the ethnic Albanians from abroad who flocked to Macedonia to vote.
But the party said Albanians lost Struga to a joint Macedonian party-backed candidate in a town which saw a similar mobilisation along ethnic lines at the elections.
Ahmeti’s rival, Menduh Thaci from the DPA, said his party was only loosing to the DUI in many western municipalities by a small margin.
“A few thousand votes are no big deal and I believe we can turn the tide in the second round,” Thaci said.
The second round is due in two weeks but will be staged only in municipalities where no candidate gained over 50 per cent of the votes in the first round.