Rival victory claims in flawed Macedonian election

SKOPJE, Sep 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Macedonia's reformist government coalition and the Socialist opposition both claimed an early lead on Monday in local elections which OSCE observers said had been marred by violence and intimidation.

"Election day was marked by serious security incidents committed by individuals and groups of supporters of political parties in some western municipalities, as well as by irregularities and intimidation," said the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Western Macedonia is populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, about one-third of the Balkan state's 2.1 million population.

"OSCE simply deplores this kind of violence, and it is against everything that the OSCE stands for," mission head Charles Magee told a news conference.

The PDP ethnic Albanian opposition party said on Sunday it would not recognize the vote because its supporters had been harassed and intimidated by activists of the rival ethnic Albanian DPA, which is part of the government coalition.

At least four people were injured in shooting incidents.

The opposition, led by the ex-communist Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), had a firm lead over two parties in the government coalition that represent ethnic Macedonians - VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Alternative.

But the DPA, which ran separately from its partners in the first round on Sunday but has promised to back their candidates in the second on September 24, was far ahead of the PDP.


SDSM said its good showing amounted to a no-confidence vote in the government, and demanded an early general election.

"As long as this government stays in power, there will be no fair and democratic elections," said Andrej Jernovski, spokesman for the small Liberal Party which backs the Socialists.

The Socialists said their candidates were poised to win in the first round in 70 percent of bigger municipalities.

The SDSM said its candidate in the capital Skopje had won 65 percent of the votes cast, compared to 21 percent for his main VMRO-backed rival.

The central electoral commission had yet to release first results and said it could take until Wednesday to do so.

Slobodan Casule, spokesman for the Democratic Alternative, rejected the SDSM demand for an early parliamentary election.

He said that combined votes cast for all three coalition partners were about 43 percent with half the votes counted, while SDSM and its allies had 38 percent.

"There are no grounds for the opposition to be triumphant or for an early election," he said. Looking ahead to the second round, he added: "This election is far from over."

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has said he would favour an early general election if the coalition loses by more than 10 percentage points. The decision is up to parliament. A general election is not due until 2002.

Macedonia, one of Europe's poorest states with unemployment over 30 percent, is still recovering from the Kosovo crisis last year when some 300,000 Kosovo Albanians flooded in from the neighboring Yugoslav province.

Macedonia's fragile ethnic balance and its geographical position, bordering Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria, make it a widely watched key to stability in the Balkans.

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