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News 22 Apr 13

Macedonia Opposition Celebrates Skopje Poll Victory

The opposition celebrated victory in Skopje’s key Centar municipality but the re-run of local elections in several areas of Macedonia was once again marred by reports of irregularities.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Andrej Zernovski | Photo by: Plus Info

The opposition led by the Social Democrats celebrated late into Sunday night after its candidate Andrej Zernovski was victorious in Centar despite claims of attempted foul play by his opponent, outgoing mayor Vladimir Todorovic of the ruling VMRO DPMNE.

According to the State Election Commission, DIK, Zernovski won with over 3,000 votes, doubling his lead over Todorovic from the second round of elections held on April 7.

“Let this be a message to the government that whoever goes against the will of the people will end up with an even greater defeat,” Zernovski told his cheering supporters.

In a controversial move last week, the country’s administrative court annulled Zernovski’s initial victory in Centar and ordered a re-run, sparking the resignation of the court’s head, Isamedin Limani, who accused his coleagues of succumbing to political pressure.

The court also ordered a re-run in the ethnically-divided town of Struga but the joint ethnic Albanian candidate Zijadin Sela confirmed his win on Sunday over the joint ethnic Macedonian candidate.

“We congratulate the candidates in Centar and in Struga on their victory,” said VMRO DPMNE spokesperson Ilija Dimovski on Sunday evening.

He pointed out however that overall, his party had won a convincing victory at the local elections, winning mayoral seats in 58 of the country’s 80 municipalities and in the capital Skopje. The opposition took only four.

Election monitors reported a particularly tense atmosphere in Centar where the vote was marred by many of the same irregularities that were seen in the first two rounds, including group voting, voters escorted by "unidentified persons" and pressure on NGO observers, in some cases by police officers.

Observers from the NGO Civil, the NGO MOST and the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights reported the bussing-in of voters from other parts of the country and of ethnic Macedonians from Albania who had allegedly been given fake residency permits in Centar.

“There were voters with IDs that did not show the place of their birth,” said Xhabir Deralla of Civil.

The police and the government, after being accused of the same violations in the second round, insisted this was not true.

Civil also said its observers were hampered by local electoral committees and the police.

Observers also reported several novel irregularities, including a large outbreak of elevator breakdowns in tall apartment buildings in Centar which they suspect was intended to discourage elderly people and others from going to cast their ballots.

Leaflets spreading disinformation that the vote would actually take place next week were also distributed to households on Saturday ahead of the re-run.

The DIK however reported only “minor irregularities”.

Expecting tensions, the country’s diplomatic corps, including US ambassador Paul Wohlers, German ambassador Gudrun Steinacker and EU ambassador Aivo Orav spent the entire day on the ground in Centar, monitoring the voting.

 

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