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Macedonia's conservatives win ballot disputed by opposition

Source: Reuters - Mon, 28 Apr 2014 16:46 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Conservatives with coalition partners secure majority

* Incumbent president Ivanov wins another term in office

* Opposition says will not recognise ballot

* OSCE says the vote was "efficient and orderly" (Adds OSCE election assessment, latest figures by state election commission)

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE, April 28 (Reuters) - Macedonia's conservative ruling party has won parliamentary and presidential elections that European monitors said were "efficient and orderly" despite opposition threats not to recognise it over alleged flaws.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party campaigned on a pledge to achieve stronger economic growth and improving living standards in one of the poorest European countries

The electoral commission said on Monday it won 61 seats and its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, DUI, secured 19 seats, giving them a comfortable majority in the 123-seat parliament. The centre-left opposition SDSM will have 34 deputies.

It confirmed Gjorge Ivanov had beaten his Social Democrat rival to win another term in the largely ceremonial role.

"This is a big, huge and strong victory. The people have clearly expressed their will," Gruevski, 43, who has ruled the former Yugoslav republic since 2006 in coalition with the DUI, told a cheering crowd early on Monday.

However, SDSM said it would not recognise the result of either election.

Its leader, Zoran Zaev, told reporters there were "threats and blackmail and massive buying of voters", accusing Gruevski and his party of "abusing the entire state system".

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". Nearly all the ballots have been counted.

The ruling party dismissed the allegations as an attempt by the opposition to manipulate public opinion.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the elections were "efficient and orderly" but campaigning beforehand did not create a level playing field for all. The opposition made no comment after the OSCE report.

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 programme to unseat him. He has dismissed as false the corruption charges and has threatened lawsuits against SDSM's Zaev.

Macedonia, with a population of 2 million, remains one of Europe's poorest countries. Unemployment is above 28 percent, but Gruevski's government has achieved solid economic growth, low public debt and a rise in foreign investment, unlike most other Balkan countries.

Diplomats have also praised Gruevski for keeping in check tensions between Macedonia's Slav majority and its large ethnic Albanian minority, whose rebellion in 2001 to secure more political rights brought the country to the brink of civil war.

But during his eight years in office, Skopje's bid to join the European Union and NATO has been frozen because of a dispute with neighbouring EU member Greece over Macedonia's name, which Athens wants changed because it is also the name of a northern Greek province.

Macedonia became a formal candidate for EU membership in 2005 but has made no progress since, as Greece has continued to block it. Years of U.N.-mediated talks have yielded no results.

The parliamentary election was called a year ahead of schedule after the coalition partners failed to agree on a joint candidate for president. (Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams)

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