Hundreds of supporters of Macedonia's conservative ruling party celebrated in downtown Skopje as their party claimed victory in parliamentary and presidential elections on April 28, based on preliminary results of the ballot that the opposition said it would not recognize.
With more than 63 percent of the votes counted, the VMRO-DPMNE party was leading with 43 percent, compared with 24 percent for the main opposition party, the center-left SDSM, the state electoral commission said.
VMRO-DPMNE's Nikola Gruevski, 43, has ruled the landlocked former Yugoslav republic of 2 million people since 2006 in coalition with his ethnic Albanian partners, the DUI party.
Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition party, the center-left SDSM, accused Gruevski and his party of “abusing the entire state system,” saying there were “threats and blackmails and massive buying of voters.”
Gruevski's party immediately dismissed the opposition allegations as an attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Opposition parties have often accused Gruevski of creeping authoritarianism and corruption. Foreign diplomats in Skopje say there are concerns about media freedom and political pressure on journalists.
Gruevski has said any complaints of authoritarianism come from opposition parties that lack a concrete political program to unseat him. He has dismissed as false the corruption charges and has threatened lawsuits against SDSM's Zaev.
It was not immediately clear what concrete steps the opposition would take once the results are officially confirmed. The SDSM said it was “keeping all options open and would decide in the next few days.”
Macedonia remains one of Europe's poorest countries, with unemployment above 28 percent, but Gruevski's government has achieved solid economic growth, low public debt and a rise in foreign investment, unlike most neighbors in the Balkans.