Europe

Macedonian conservative party claims victory

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's incumbent prime minister claimed a landslide victory late Sunday in parliamentary and presidential elections, but the center-left opposition denounced what it called distorting interference in the democratic process by the ruling party and said it won't recognize the results.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski claimed a "powerful" victory for his VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled since 2006, and expressed his hope for an outright majority in the 123-member parliament. "Macedonia had peaceful, fair and free elections. Macedonia is the biggest winner. We can be proud," Gruevski told a crowd of cheering supporters at party headquarters.

With 91.7 percent of the votes in the parliamentary election counted, the conservatives led with 43.2 percent, while the Social Democrat-led leftist alliance had 24.9 percent, according to the State Election Commission web site.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integrations, or DUI, the conservatives' partner in the outgoing government, was credited with 13.8 percent, while their main rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians, had 5.9 percent.

Turnout was 62.9 percent. In the election for the largely ceremonial office of the president, the conservative-backed incumbent, Gjorge Ivanov, led with 55.7 percent, while his Social Democrat rival Stevo Pendarovski had 40.5 percent, with almost 92 percent of the cast ballots counted. The turnout for the presidential runoff was 54 percent.

There were indications the ethnic Albanian minority had, as in the first round, largely boycotted the presidential vote. Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people. Gruevski said he hoped his party would get 62 seats in parliament, the exact number required for an outright majority. He added that the Social Democrats would get 34-35 seats.

Official results on seats will be announced Monday. Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev claimed shortly after polls closed that Gruevski's conservative government had unfairly used state resources to influence the campaign for his own re-election and that of his political ally, Ivanov.

Zaev said civil servants were pressured to vote for the ruling conservatives or face losing their jobs. "The government has once again usurped the democratic rights of citizens," Zaev said, calling for an "immediate establishment of (a) technical government that will conduct parliamentary and presidential elections."

Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE immediately rejected the opposition claims, saying "Macedonia has had the most peaceful and democratic elections ever." Senior party official Antonio Milososki accused the opposition of "manipulation" and "provoking incidents."

Nearly 1.8 million voters were eligible to cast ballots at more than 3,500 polling stations.

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