Macedonian opposition leader contests election defeat

December 13, 2016
Full moon rises behind decorative lights and an illuminated Christmas tree, in Skopje, Macedonia, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. For the third time this year the moon looks about 14% bigger and brighter as it reaches its closest point to Earth. The supermoon phenomenon occurs when the moon, which follows an elliptical orbit around the Earth, reaches a point closer than usual. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s opposition leader on Tuesday challenged the official results of the country’s weekend parliamentary elections, and said he will file a formal appeal with electoral authorities.

Zoran Zaev’s leftist Social Democrats narrowly lost Sunday’s vote to former prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s governing conservatives.

He said each of the main parties should get 50 seats in parliament. Results issued Monday gave Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party 51 of parliament’s 120 seats and the Social Democrats 49. While short of a majority, the conservatives should be able to form a governing coalition with their previous junior partner, an ethnic Albanian party that won 10 seats.

Zaev said official results differed significantly from figures provided by his party’s observers at polling stations in a northwestern region mostly populated by ethnic Albanians.

The early election was called as part of a Western-brokered deal to defuse a two-year political crisis sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal. The opposition blamed Gruevski for an illegal wiretapping operation targeting more than 20,000 people.

Gruevski — who has governed Macedonia for the past decade — denied wrongdoing, blaming the wiretaps on unspecified foreign spies.

A senior VMRO-DPMNE official quickly responded to the opposition’s objections by accusing Zaev of trying to cheat voters.

″(Zaev) and those around him should know that they are playing with the people’s patience, and if someone tries to steal their victory, patience will turn into anger,” Vlatko Gjorcev said.

In a statement Tuesday, President Gjorge Ivanov voiced hopes that the election “will contribute to ending the political crisis and will be the beginning of national reconciliation in the country.”

The newly elected parliament should convene by the end of this month, and the new government must be formed by the end of January.