Macedonia’s reformist government coalition and the Socialist opposition both claimed an early lead in Sunday’s local elections which OSCE observers said on Monday were 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.
The mission had over 100 monitors at Sunday’s polls.
“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 opposition Albanian party, known as the PDP, said on Sunday it would not recognize the vote because its supporters were constantly harassed and intimidated by activists of the rival party, the DPA, which is part of the government coalition. At least four people were injured in shooting incidents.
Macedonians were deeply split over the poll which opened an election season in the Balkans, Europe’s most unstable region.
The opposition, led by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of ex-communists, had a firm lead over two parties in the government coalition that represent ethnic Macedonians, VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Alternative.
But the DPA, running separately from its coalition partners in the first round on Sunday and promising to back their candidates in the second on Sept. 24, was far ahead of PDP.
SDSM said its good showing amounted to a no confidence vote in the government and demanded an early general election.
“Today, the citizens of Macedonia made another great decision, which is that it needs an early parliamentary election,” said triumphant SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski.
The Socialists said their candidates were poised to win in the first round in 70 percent of bigger municipalities, including the capital Skopje.
The central electoral commission is yet to release first results.