Voting Ends in ‘Peaceful’ Macedonia Election

resizer122Voting has closed in Macedonia’s presidential and mayoral elections, with the country’s Election Commission announcing the poll went without major incident and met democratic norms.

In what was widely seen as a curtail test for the country’s shaken democratic record only the heavy snow disrupted the election with ballot materials unable to reach some remote mountainous areas on time.

But overall the election went “peacefully and in a democratic atmosphere with minor exceptions,” the State Election Commission head, Aleksandar Novakovski said at a press conference. The turnout until 1700 CET was 48 percent, the commission said.

The snow prevented some 12,000 people in certain mountainous vilages, less than one percent of the total voters, to vote as the balloting did not start in 103 out of the nearly 3000 ballot stations, the commission said.

The largest association of domestic monitors, MOST also assessed the vote as generally fair and democratic with few minor, mainly technical and administrative flaws. They have been monitoring the process with over 3000 observers out of almost 7,500 present at the ballots. The police presence was also evident at all ballot stations.

The election is being closely monitored in the West which has previously warned the country that it could face years of delay in its bid to join the European Union if there is a repeat of last year’s election-related violence. In June 2008, violence erupted between rival ethnic Albanian parties during the vote leaving one person dead and several wounded.

In statements given prior to the closing of the vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the largest international monitoring group, and the key western ambassadors to the country also expressed that they were content with the way the elections were held.

If none of the seven presidential candidates wins more than half of the votes in the first round a run-off will be staged on April 5 between the two front-runners. The same applies for the 84 mayoral seats.

During the campaign, the opinion polls favored the conservative ruling VMRO-DPMNE presidential candidate Georgi Ivanov. Ljubomir Frckoski from the main opposition, the Social Democrats and Imer Selmani from the freshly-formed New Democracy party were mentioned as most probable runner-ups.

If the country pulls off a smooth election it can hope for a swift removal of EU visas put up against travelling Macedonian citizens and a date for the start of its EU accession talks this autumn.

Macedonia has been a EU candidate state since 2005 and last year the EC said Skopje is still not ready for the start of accession talks largely because the violence and fraud allegations that marred the 2008 general election.

The first unofficial results are expected Sunday around midnight or in the early hours of Monday. The State Election Commission notes that the vote count this time will be a little slower due to the complexity of the double elections.

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