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Macedonian Conservatives Secure Win After Rerun

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Tearce, northwestern Macedonia, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016.

Macedonia's conservatives, led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, secured victory on Sunday in a bitterly contested national election after a poll rerun in a single station did not give the leftist opposition enough votes to overtake their rivals.

The rerun, in the northwestern village of Tearce, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital of Skopje, gave the opposition, led by the Social Democrats, 245 votes to 149 for the conservatives, led by Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party. There were 402 people voting out of 714 registered.

The rerun had been ordered following complaints about voting irregularities from the opposition Social Democrats.

The result has not been officially announced but has been posted on the website of Macedonia's Election Commission.

With the rerun result in, VMRO-DPMNE wins 454,577 votes and 51 seats in the 120-member Parliament to 436,981 votes and 49 seats for the Social Democrats. The latter needed to secure 307 votes over the conservatives in a rerun to gain a 50th seat at the conservatives' expense.

What is certain is that Gruevski will need to form a coalition government with onee or more of the Albanian-minority parties, as he has done in the past. But, this time, coalition-building will be complicated by the emergence of two new Albanian-minority parties. The largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, has been a reliable Gruevski partner in the past.

In the annulled vote in Tearce, on Dec. 11, 404 registered voters had cast ballots. VMRO-DPMNE won 91 votes to 87 for the Social Democrats, while the rest were split among four Albanian-minority parties.

In the lead to the rerun, Gruevski's party had been spreading rumors that the Albanians would vote massively for the opposition and had even claimed it would not recognize the result.

Antonio Milososki, a VMRO-DPMNE senior official, has blamed the leftist opposition of trying to "falsify the electoral will of the citizens".

"They (the opposition) are trying with some reruns to manipulate or to create conditions for falsifying the will of the people," he said.

The national election was called two years early as part of a Western-brokered deal to defuse a two-year political crisis sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal. The left-wing opposition blamed Gruevski for an illegal wiretapping operation targeting more than 20,000 people.

Voting in the rerun went generally smoothly. It was halted for 15 minutes due to problems with the ultra-violet lamps used in the voting verification process. Election authorities use invisible spray on voters' thumb to mark them as having cast votes and check all voters with UV lamps to make sure they will not try to vote again.

Police said Sunday they got a report that two individuals allegedly tried to bribe an unidentified number of residents, offering them from 100 to 500 euros, in order not to vote.

The bribers allegedly asked for identity documents from voters as proof they would not vote. Authorities are investigating the allegations.

According to the monitors of civic organization "Civil", attempts were made to bribe about 40 residents.