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Macedonia Local Elections Calm Despite Political Tensions

March 26, 2013

Macedonians voted in municipal polls on Sunday which saw no serious incidents despite a political crisis and ethnic tensions that shook the country in recent months.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 24.03.2013

 

Photo by: MIA

Officials said the vote went ahead without major incidents, although election monitors observed some irregularities at several polling stations across the country and one regional opposition candidate alleged foul play.

After heightened political and ethnic tensions in recent months, the country’s president had appealed for calm at the municipal polls in which over 1.7 million people were eligible to vote.

Voters were choosing mayors and council members in 80 municipalities and in the capital, Skopje.

In Skopje, 54 per cent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 5pm. Polls closed at 7pm.

The main ruling VMRO DPMNE party said it was confident of winning.

“We expect a great election victory,” the head of the party’s press centre, Ilija Dimovski, told media after polling stations closed, adding that the party had noticed no significant voting irregularities.

The main opposition Social Democrats did not immediately release a post-poll statement, although a Facebook campaign page for Zoran Zaev, one of the opposition’s main mayoral candidates in the south-eastern town of Strumica, declared victory but alleged foul play by the ruling party.

“Despite all the threats, pressure, blackmail that they [VMRO DPMNE] did during the campaign and throughout election day in all polling stations, Zoran Zaev has a convincing lead,” the statement said.

Police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski said that the elections passed in a “calm, fair and democratic atmosphere”.

Observers from the NGOs MOST and MCMS confirmed a lack of serious incidents but 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.

Macedonian media freedom activist Roberto Belicanec meanwhile alleged that he was threatened by a group of youngsters that he tried to photograph as they were agitating for the VMRO DPMNE party near a polling station.

“They threatened me and my wife, saying that they would damage our car… and that they would put a gun against my head,” he told Brif.mk. He said that police insisted that he delete his pictures or would charge him for filing a false complaint.

The polls came after a political stand-off which almost saw the opposition Social Democrats boycotting the vote – a threat only averted by last-minute EU intervention.

The crisis erupted after a row over a budget vote in parliament on December 24 saw opposition MPs expelled from the chamber, leading to a parliamentary boycott by the opposition and street protests.

There was also violence on the streets of Skopje this month after ethnically-charged protests and counter-protests by Macedonians and Albanians ended in clashes with riot police after the appointment of a former Albanian guerrilla, Talat Xhaferi, as the country’s defence minister.

Election day started calmly however despite a series of potentially disruptive incidents on the eve of the polls.

Bomb scares were reported at the two main airports in Skopje and Ohrid on Saturday evening, although no explosives were found. The incidents were linked with the announced arrival of ethnic Albanian voters from Switzerland who were to cast their ballots in the west of the country.

A bomb scare also led to the evacuation of the pro-governmental Sitel TV station.

Later on Saturday evening, police said that a group of youths demolished few cars and stores in the ethnically-mixed Skopje suburb of Nerezi.

President Gjorge Ivanov had called for a peaceful vote after the pre-election crisis.

“I urge all stakeholders in these local elections to contribute so that the vote passes off in the best possible way, since we are being monitored from every corner. Those who attempt to hinder the electoral process should be heavily sanctioned,” Ivanov said on Friday.

Over the 20 days of the election campaign, parties, coalitions and independent candidates focused primarily on promises to improve local infrastructure.

Some 350 mayoral candidates were running for office. The vote was monitored by 8,400 local election monitors and 410 foreign observers.

Preliminary results were expected late Sunday and on Monday. However, in many places a mayor will only be elected in the second round of elections, between the two leading candidates from the first round.

The end of the campaign was marked by opposition accusations that the main ruling party will try to rig the election outcome. The ruling VMRO DPMNE party said this allegation formed part of an opposition scenario to justify its probable defeat.

In the capital, the prize in the election, the main battle was between the current mayor of Skopje, Koce Trajanovski, from VMRO DPMNE, and Jani Makraduli, from the opposition Social Democrats.

In the Albanian political bloc, the main contestants were the junior ruling party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA.

The Social Democrats insisted that the vote should be taken as a referendum on the national government. They have pledged to continue their campaign for early general elections after the local vote is over.

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From → FYROM, Politics

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