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Georgievski Survives Election Test

The Macedonian joint opposition fails in its bid to force early parliamentary elections
By Karina Johansen

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski appears to have passed a crucial litmus test in the September 10 local elections.

After a confused and piecemeal vote count, figures published in pro-government Nova Makedonija daily on September 14 had the joint opposition and the government virtually neck and neck. The ruling coalition had secured 343,891 votes against the opposition's 338,026 in 122 of 123 municipalities counted, the paper said. The opposition, however, did particularly well in the capital Skopje.

From the outset the opposition had tried to present the local poll as a national referendum on the government's performance. Although he initially resisted the challenge, Georgievski finally promised to resign and call early parliamentary elections should his rivals win by a clear 10 per cent.

The State Election Commission, SEC, confirmed on September 14 that all Municipal Election Commissions, MEC, had submitted their results from the first round, with the exceptions of Vilolite, Brvenica and Debar, where violence and irregularities had forced the closure of polling stations on election day. The election re-run in these areas is scheduled for September 24.

Compilation of the final results was hampered by the SEC's strict interpretation of its mandate, whereby each MEC was deemed responsible for announcing each municipal count. This caused much initial confusion with the various political parties placing their own spin on the results.

The joint opposition, led by the Social Democratic Party of Macedonia, SDSM, claimed they had secured the treasured 10 per cent and would hold Georgievski to his word. The government coalition - combining the VMRO-DPMNE, the Democratic Alternative, DA, and the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA - insisted there would be no early elections as the opposition had failed to meet their target.

The results from the Macedonian capital, Skopje, appear to have been at the root of these very varied interpretations. Voters on September 10 had to choose a citywide council, as well as voting for local representatives in each of the five municipalities within the capital. The opposition counted the results from both ballots, while the government highlighted results from only one poll.

According to Macedonian electoral law city council members are elected by proportional representation after the first round. City mayors, meanwhile, are determined by majority vote. Usually the elections go to a second round run-off, where all candidates receiving 10 per cent or more are allowed to compete.

Of the 123 municipalities counted, 53 mayors were elected in the first round. The joint opposition won in 24 constituencies and the government coalition in 16. In Skopje, the incumbent opposition candidate Risto Penov won with just over 64 per cent of the vote. His main opponent Ljupco Kikolovski Fufo ran as an independent, although he is affiliated to the VMRO-DPMNE and the DA. He secured only 22.45 per cent.

Seventy mayorial elections go to a second round on September 24.

In the ethnic Albanian areas, the DPA won in 12 constituencies, while the rival Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP secured only one victory. The violence and irregularities, which marred the September 10 poll, largely affected ethnic Albanian areas. Although in Skopje too almost 11 per cent of votes cast were deemed invalid.

The DPA and PDP have accused each other of fuelling or orchestrating the trouble. Information on the nature of each incident is scarce, however, and some observers believe many of the clashes were caused by personal arguments and voter frustration.

Nevertheless the PDP, which insists its supporters have been the victims of organised intimidation, are boycotting the re-runs and second round ballots.

With the PDP out of the race, the DPA, a member of the governing coalition, should do well in ethnic Albanian areas, which can only enhance the final position of Georgievski's administration after September 24.

Although the international election observers voiced some concerns over irregularities, violence and the high number of invalid ballots, the OSCE said the election was generally free and fair. The international community has stressed, however, the need to ensure there is no repetition of the problems during the re-runs and second round votes on September 24.

Karina Johansen is presently working as an academic researcher in Skopje.

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