Preliminary election results in Macedonia show opposition parties scoring a major victory in the southern Balkan country. A change of government appears assured even though official results won't be known until late Monday.
As Sunday night turned into Monday morning there were noisy celebrations at the headquarters of the parties headed towards electoral victory. In Tetovo in the ethnic Albanian populated northwest, former guerrillas fired shots into the air as thousands of wellwishers gathered at the headquarters of the Democratic Union for Integration, the party of former insurgent leader Ali Ahmeti.
The DUI was out-polling its Albanian rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians, by a three to one margin. The head of the Democratic party conceded defeat and promised to work with Mr. Ahmeti.
Here in Skopje the party led by the Social Democratic Union is well ahead of its main Macedonian rival, the ruling VMRO of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.
The head of Macedonia's electoral commission says the voting was free and fair and largely without significant problems. That preliminary assessment is shared by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which deployed over 800 election monitors to Macedonia. At least 70 percent of those eligible actually voted in this, the first parliamentary election since the guerrilla insurgency brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war last year.
Analysts say voters turned against the parties in power, blaming them for rampant corruption and a weak economy that has kept wages low and unemployment in excess of 25 per cent.
Once the official results are announced there will be a period of intense bargaining leading to the formation of a new government. The new parliament must meet within 20 days. Former guerrilla leader Ahmeti is in a strong position and his support could be decisive in shaping the new government.
Many ethnic Macedonians regard Mr. Ahmeti as a terrorist and the current government has threatened to arrest him. The possibility exists that his Integration party could become a partner in a government led by the Social Democrats.