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News 30 Oct 17

Ruling Parties Seal Local Election Victory in Macedonia

Macedonia’s ruling Social Democrats, SDSM, and their junior coalition partners, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, sealed their local election victory on Sunday after a second round of voting. The opposition alleged the results were fraudulent.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Photo: MIA

Macedonia's SDSM, led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, confirmed its widespread support, winning 18 of the 35 municipalities in which voting took place Sunday. The first round already suggested widespread support on October 15 (SDSM won 39), which together with Sunday's vote means that in total the party now controls at least 57 out of Macedonia’s 81 municipalities.

The government's bitter political rivals, the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party led by Nikola Gruevski, suffered a crushing defeat once again, winning only two municipalities in this second round. In total, the former ruling party will now likely have only five mayors. 

SDSM managed to secure a victory in the eastern Macedonian town of Stip, which was widely regarded as the last big remaining VMRO-DPMNE stronghold. The party also beat VMRO-DPMNE in the Skopje municipalities of Gazi Baba, Kisela Voda and Butel, which were also traditional right-wing strongholds.

The DUI won in 11 ethnic Albanian municipalities and managed to maintain its dominance over its main rivals, the Alliance for Albanians and the BESA movement, which together forged a mid-election alliance after the first round.

DUI secured a victory in the northwestern town of Tetovo and in the Skopje municipality of Cair, which was seen as the main prize of the Albanian areas. The DUI also managed a surprising victory in the town of Struga, where the head of the Alliance for Albanians, Zijadin Sela, was a favorite after the first round.

However, the party lost to the Alliance in the town of Gostivar and to BESA in the rural municipality of Zelino.

The rural municipality of Brvenica was the only area in which an independent candidate won in the second round of voting.

Opposition Cries Foul Play

Mere minutes after polling stations closed, VMRO-DPMNE said it would not recognise the results, saying that they had been the result of foul play.

Opposition VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski. Photo: MIA

In a dramatic speech, party leader Nikola Gruevski declared the elections undemocratic, alleging electoral fraud and government pressure on voters. 

“Due to election irregularities, the rape of democracy and the state, VMRO-DPMNE does not recognise the local elections,” said Gruevski, accusing the police of actively assisting government.

Gruevski called for an immediate early general election and delivered a list of seven demands to the government which he said would ensure free and fair voting. The list demanded the resignation of the head of the State Electoral Commission and the establishment of a special prosecution that would investigate irregularities at last year’s early general elections and at these local polls.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in his reply urged his political opponent to reconsider his stance.

“I hope they will find the courage to act as a serious political body. I appeal to the VMRO-DPMNE leadership to put citizens’ interests in primary position,” Zaev said after polls closed.

Domestic observers from NGOs MOST and Civil declatred that the local elections had generally been free and democratic in the second, noting several isolated cases of irregularities, including chain voting and pressure on observers and on voters (although the perpetrators were not mentioned).

International observers from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) have not yet released their assessment of the second round, but said that the first round had been democratic and free.

These local elections were seen as a test for the new government led by Zaev which came to power in May, after a prolonged political crisis which saw 11 years of the VMRO-DPMNE-led government  widely accused of authoritarian tendencies and corruption.

VMRO-DPMNE’s top leadership is currently being charged by the Special Prosecution, formed in 2015 during a period of crisis, for electoral fraud during past election cycles.

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