North Macedonia: Zaev declares election victory with main parties neck and neck

The pro-Western Social Democrats narrowly win against the center-right opposition, the preliminary results of the parliamentary election in North Macedonia, held on Wednesday, show. The state election commission said early Thursday that with nearly 94% of the vote counted the Social Democrats (SDSM) have 36% and VMRO-DPMNE follow at more than 34%.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) was third at 11%, while a coalition of two smaller ethnic Albanian parties followed at nearly 9%. The Commission gave no projections on how many seats each party stood to win in the 120-member parliament.

The commission's website collapsed earlier and was not restored three hours after the polling ended at 9 pm (1900 GMT), dpa reported. The count was instead streamed live on YouTube. Commission president Oliver Derkovski said that the website was hacked, but that the ballot count had been unaffected.

Shortly afterwards, Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev declared victory. SDSM party secretary general Ljupco Nikolovski said earlier that the party would hold at least two seats more than the VMRO in the country's 120-seat parliament. SDSM supporters were celebrating in the streets in Skopje and other cities, local media reported.

The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) was the leading party among those representing the ethnic Albanian majority, setting itself on course to become the junior partner in the upcoming government coalition. Skopje authorities had delayed the election from 12 April because of the Covid-19 pandemic, rescheduling it as the outbreak appeared to be weakening.

Zaev called a snap election in October after the EU failed to agree on launching membership talks with his country as a reward for resolving a 30-year old diplomatic row with Greece. The Skopje-Athens deal changed the name of the former Yugoslav republic to North Macedonia, opening it the door to NATO and to move it closer to EU membership. Zaev resigned in January, leaving the post for a transitional government to prepare the elections. The EU did finally invite Skopje to begin membership talks and North Macedonia joined NATO, both within days in late March.  

Local observers estimated that Zaev as prime minister would secure faster progress in the EU talks than the VMRO leader Hristijan Mickovski, who could possibly have tried to block some aspects of the agreement with Greece.

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