Conservatives win Macedonian election, need partner to rule

December 12, 2016
People cross a street in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, a day after the country's general election. Nearly complete results in Macedonia's early general elections show the country's conservative coalition in a slim victory over its Social Democratic rivals, but with neither party winning enough parliamentary seats to form a government. Both sides have claimed victory. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s dominant conservative coalition has won a narrow victory over the main opposition Social Democrats in early national elections, although without enough seats in parliament to govern alone, final results showed Monday.

But the conservative coalition led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE would be able to form a government with the help of his previous junior partner, a party representing the country’s ethnic Albanian minority.

Together, the two parties would control 61 of Parliament’s 120 seats.

The election was called as part of a Western-brokered deal to defuse a two-year political crisis sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal. The left-wing 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.

Results Monday from 99.8 percent of polling stations showed the coalition led by his VMRO-DPMNE with about 38 percent of the vote and 51 seats. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats garnered 36.7 percent, and 49 seats.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration — which usually allies with Gruevski — received 7.3 percent of the vote and ten seats.

Both Gruevski and Zaev claimed victory on Sunday night. Parties have three days in which to contest the final results.

In the past, Macedonian elections have been tarnished by allegations of irregularities.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a preliminary report that Sunday’s vote was “generally well administered” and had gone smoothly overall.

But they noted that the campaign took place in an environment “characterized by public mistrust in institutions and the political establishment, and allegations of voter coercion.”

Nearly 67 percent of Macedonia’s 1.8 million registered voters cast ballots in Sunday’s election, one of the highest turnouts in recent general elections.