Macedonia vote tally backs prime minister's victory claim

Other News Materials 2 June 2008 15:46 (UTC +04:00)

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's party won a commanding 47 per cent of the vote in Macedonian snap elections marred by irregularities and deadly violence between ethnic Albanians, nearly complete returns showed Monday.

Gruevski, representing the Balkan country's Slavic majority, claimed victory for his centre-right coalition soon after polls closed Sunday, saying his bloc had won a majority in the 120-seat parliament, reported dpa.

While giving no seat breakdown Monday, the State Election Commission said Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party won 46.7 per cent of the vote with about 83 per cent of ballots counted.

Gruevski's coalition partner in the outgoing government, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), was polling 10.1 per cent, compared with 11.3 per cent for their bitter enemies in the Albanian community, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

The European Union and the United States expressed dismay about the poll violence in a country seeking to join the EU and NATO. One person was killed and several wounded, while dozens of polling stations closed early because of clashes.

Gruesvki's party said polls will be repeated in two weeks in the polling stations where voting was interrupted.

Two thirds of the 2.1 million Macedonians are Slavs, while about a quarter are ethnic Albanians. Clashes between Albanian fighters and government forces led the country to the brink of all-out war in 2001 before a Western-brokered truce took hold.

Sunday's election was seen as a gauge of Macedonia's political and democratic readiness for the West, but the shortcomings it displayed may set it back.

While a VMRO spokesman downplayed the violence as a problem at "only one or two per cent of the polling stations," the West was quick to condemn the incidents.

US Ambassador to Macedonia Gillian Milovanovic said she was "bitterly disappointed."

The European Commission representative to Macedonia, Ervan Fuere, said, "The EU is deeply concerned. Such things don't happen in a democratic society."

Macedonia was turned back from NATO's doorstep in April because of a dispute over its name with neighbouring Greece. It has also been spinning wheels on its approach to the EU since it won a membership candidacy in 2005.