Bitter Macedonian rivals both claim election victory

Neck-and-neck vote unlikely to end crisis over spying and corruption

Macedonia’s two main political parties have both claimed victory in a bitter election battle, dashing hopes that the vote would end a crisis caused by a lurid corruption and spying scandal.

With almost all votes counted after Sunday's election, the conservative alliance led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski had 38.06 per cent of ballots, narrowly ahead of Zoran Zaev's Social Democrats on 36.69 per cent.

It was unclear how many seats each party would have in Macedonia’s new parliament, or which would join forces with parties representing the ethnic-Albanian community that makes up about a quarter of the country’s two million population.

“The regime fell. The entire world should understand that we wrote history today,” Mr Zaev said in front of government headquarters in Skopje on Sunday night, as his supporters came onto the streets of the capital to celebrate.


Mr Gruevski also declared victory, however, saying: “This is the 10th electoral victory for VMRO and the majority of the people gave the vote to our programme and vision.”

Voter intimidation

Election monitors from groups including the

European Parliament

said that while “fundamental freedoms were generally respected and contestants were able to campaign freely, there were allegations of voter intimidation and widespread pressure on civil servants, verified by observers in a dozen cases.”

Having held power for nearly a decade, Mr Gruevski resigned this year as part of a western-brokered deal to end a crisis over claims that he and his allies were involved in major corruption and illegal wiretapping of some 20,000 people.

Starting early last year, Mr Zaev released wiretap recordings that appear to include senior government, security and other officials discussing crimes ranging from vote rigging and misuse of state funds to a murder cover-up.

Mr Gruevski and his allies deny the allegations, and accuse Mr Zaev of working with an unnamed foreign intelligence service to stage a “coup”.

Blanket pardon

The crisis escalated in April, when Macedonian president

Gjorge Ivanov

unexpectedly announced a blanket pardon for 57 people, among them Mr Gruevski, several former ministers, security service figures, mayors, judges, businessmen and other politicians including Mr Zaev.

Mr Ivanov said he wanted to end the “agony” of Macedonia’s worst crisis since 2001, when fighting between ethnic-Albanian insurgents and government forces threatened to spark all-out war, until western powers helped hammer out a peace deal.

Amid sharp criticism from the European Union and United States – and raucous protest marches through Skopje by thousands of people who joined the so-called colourful revolution movement – Mr Ivanov revoked the pardons.

Political turbulence continued, however, and complaints about the government’s alleged failure to ensure a free and fair vote prompted the early elections to be postponed twice, before they finally took place on Sunday.

Macedonia is a candidate to join the EU and Nato, but accession to both alliances has been scuppered by rising concern for the country's democracy and Greek opposition to its name – which is also used by a province of northern Greece.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe