LIVE: Macedonia Elections 2016
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LIVE: Macedonia Elections 2016

Stay tuned for all the latest developments, election results and reactions as Macedonia goes to the polls to elect a new government amid a deep political crisis.

    Polling stations in Macedonia opened at 7am on Sunday morning for this high-stakes general election that is seen as a crucial step towards getting the country out of its long political crisis.
    More than 1.7 million people will be able to vote, with polling booths closing at 7pm tonight.
    Photo: MIA
    Everything you need to know about the 2016 elections:
    Photo: MIA
    The background
    Macedonia’s 2016 early general election comes amid a prolonged and deep political crisis centered on the opposition's claim that Nikola Gruevski, the former Prime Minister and head of the main ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, is behind a mass illegal wiretapping; an allegation which he denies.
    In February 2015, the opposition began releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which it claims shows that the VMRO-DPMNE-led government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people. Among those secretly recorded were: ministers, politicians from the ruling and opposition parties, businessmen, journalists, scholars and activists.
    The opposition has also claimed the tapes provide evidence that several top members of government and their associates were involved in serious illegal schemes including rigging general and presidential elections in 2014, manipulating the justice system, intimidating and controlling the media, and, shockingly, covering up the murder of a young man by a police officer.
    The upcoming election follows two years of large anti-government protests —  attended by tens of thousands of people at their peak —  sparked by the release of the tapes.
    Earlier this year, two election dates were postponed by parliament. The third attempt, calling for the elections to take place on December 11, follows the signing of an EU-backed ‘renewed crisis agreement’ by all parties during the summer.
    This agreement put in place an interim government, including ministers from the opposition parties, and is aimed at ensuring that elections are free and fair.
    This is the eighth general election since Macedonia became independent in the 1990s and the third early election in a row.

    Who is in the running?
    The two largest parties standing in the election are the nationalist centre-right VMRO-DPMNE, which has been in power since 2006 and whose leaders claim the crisis has been imposed by unnamed foreign services trying to destabilise the country, and the Social Democrats, SDSM, which has pledged to improve democratic standards, reform the country economically and tackle high-level corruption, and social injustice.
    A third bloc of smaller centre-right opposition parties may also take a small chunk of voters who would traditionally side with VMRO-DPMNE.
    The ethnic Albanian vote could also be significant in determining the next government. Ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of Macedonia’s population and the party that wins their vote normally sits as a coalition partner in the government, potentially making them a kingmaker if the result is tight.
    The Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, will this time face a serious challenge to keep supremacy among Albanian voters. Apart from its traditional rival, the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, it will also have to confront several newly formed Albanian opposition parties like BESA and the DPA - Movement for Reforms.
    For the first time since Macedonia's independence, the opposition Social Democrats have also set their sights on winning Albanian votes with pledges to tackle social inequality.

    What affect will the election have on the wiretapping scandal?
    The election result will also likely determine whether the allegations relating to the wiretapped recordings are ever fully investigated, and the speed at which any investigations move forward.
    Photo: MIA
    Most of the allegations resulting from the tapes concern members of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party including the current president. At present Grueski is under investigation by the Special Prosecution, SJO — which was formed last year as part of the EU-sponsored political crisis agreement —   and has already been charged in one case.
    This year the ruling party accused the SJO of being unprofessional and biased. In contrast the SDSM have said if they win the election they will speed up investigations and remove obstacles they claim are imposed by the ruling party.
    Yet, despite the radically different stands on the subject of SJO, under international pressure all political parties have made guarantees that they will ensure its continues to work after the elections.

    What the opinion polls say?
    Most opinion polls give the ruling VMRO-DPMNE a slight advantage over the main opposition Social Democrats, but show that the gap between the two is closing. This opens a possibility for a surprise outcome, especially if the opposition manages to mobilise undecided ‘swing’ voters, many of whom are generally disappointed with the existing political options.
    Polls show that the junior ruling DUI has the most chance of coming first among Albanian voters despite its sharply declined rating. This is mainly owing to the divisiveness among ethnic Albanian opposition parties who are divided into several alliances.
    How the voting system works?
    More than 1.7 million people out of a total population of about 2.2 million are eligible to cast their ballot in the polls.
    For general elections, the country is divided into six electoral units, each contributing 20 legislators to the 123-seat parliament. Since 2011, Macedonia’s diaspora have also had the right to vote and elect three MPs.
    Each political party proposes a list of 20 candidates in each of the country’s six electoral units. The more votes a party wins in a district, the more candidates from that list enter parliament. When elected, the legislators’ term lasts for four years.
    In a brief press conference, Macedonia's State Electoral Commission, DIK, said that the voter turnout by 10am across all of Macedonia was 9.49 per cent.
    The DIK president, Aleksandar Cicakovski, said that they are getting reports of some minor irregularities at multiple locations, but will deliver more information at a later press conference.
    Photo: MIA
    Election monitors from CIVIL, an NGO that has been at the forefront of election monitoring in the country in recent elections, announced at a press conference that they noticed several cases of election irregularities thus far.
    The identified irregularities include breaches of voting secrecy, breaching of pre-election silence and pressure on voters.
    Election monitors from MOST, a civil association that has provided election monitors in previous polls in the country, announced that they have noticed two cases of photographing of ballot leafs.

    One incident occurred in the capital, Skopje, and the other in the southeastern town of Radovish.

    In both cases, police have been called to intervene, MOST stated.
    Photo: MIA
    The chief of the OSCE’s election monitors, Azay Guliyev, has expressed the mission’s hopes that the voting in Macedonia today will be peaceful and without problems, as the polls are widely seen as a necessary step towards getting the country out of its long political crisis, which has lasted over two years.
    He added that the OSCE will come up with its preliminary assessment on the elections on Monday.
    The chief of the OSCE’s election monitors, Azay Guliyev.
    Macedonia may be in for one of the tightest electoral races in its democratic history with opinion polls suggesting that the gap between the ruling party and the opposition is narrow and the number of undecided voters remains high.
    VMRO DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski. Photo: MIA
    The election campaign in the lead up to today’s polls was not short of startling statements from politicians, but we whittled them down to a list of four of the most striking.
    Opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev. Photo: MIA
    “If Macedonia's ruling party can hold on, it will send a chilling message to other strongmen to continue their ways undisturbed. A victory for the opposition, meanwhile, would only mark the beginning of the restoration of genuinely democratic rule.”
    Read the full comment piece by Florian Bieber, a professor for Southeast European History and Politics at the University of Graz and coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG).
    A man walks past election posters of Nikola Gruevski, the leader of the ruing VMRO-DPMNE party, displayed along a street in Skopje. Photo: Boris Grdanoski/AP
    Macedonia’s Interior Ministry had several interventions the day before the elections in which it noted cases of bribery, blackmailing of voters and of unsecured electoral rolls, the police announced in a bulletin issued on Sunday morning.
    The police also filed criminal charges against two people from the Kocani area in eastern Macedonia on suspicions of trying to bribe voters with 1,000 MK denars [around 16 euros] in exchange for their ID cards as guarantees that they will not cast a ballot, the bulletin stated.
    In two other cases, the police also say they found a copy of an electoral roll in a private vehicle owned by a resident of the eastern city of Strumica while the election material in one polling station near the town of Ohrid was left unsecured overnight.
    Macedonian police emblem.
    The winner of Macedonia’s 2016 general elections could be determined by the undecided voters, with the gap between the two political parties just 3.9 per cent going into the polls – notably lower than the 11 per cent difference in the last early general election in 2014.

    The fact Macedonia has now been in a state of political crisis for two years may act as a motivator for people to vote who don’t usually do so, experts said prior to the elections.

    According to them, if the turnout is higher than usual, the additional votes are more likely to go towards the opposition parties.
    Opposition Social Democrats leader, Zoran Zaev. Photo: MIA
    For more in-depth analysis of Macedonia's 2016 general elections, see our dedicated coverage brought to you by our team in Skopje in the lead up to today's polls here:
    Photo: Robert Atanasovski
    Amounting to around a quarter of the population and with the election predicted to be one of the tightest in Macedonia’s democratic history, Albanians have the potential to become a kingmaker.
    Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanovski cast their votes today.
    Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. Photo: MIA
    Macedonia's Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanovski . Photo: MIA
    Some 1,000 people in Macedonia were unable to vote until 1pm because their names were not included on the electoral roll, Xhabir Deralla, the head of CIVIL, an NGO that is monitoring today’s elections, announced at a press conference this afternoon.
    CIVIL also stated that thus far they have noted a total of 250 separate electoral irregularities, including breaches of the pre-election silence and cases of family voting.
    Xhabir Deralla. Photo: Civil
    The fate of Macedonia’s Special Prosecution, which is tasked with investigating high-level crime and corruption, also rests on today’s election, with Macedonia’s ruling party having pledged to wind it up if it is victorious.

    The Special Prosecution is currently investigating the mass wiretap scandal, which was the trigger that plunged the country into its deep political crisis almost two years ago.

    The election result is thus likely to determine whether the wiretap allegations, made by the opposition Social Democrats, accusing VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski of masterminding the illegal surveillance of at least 20,000 people - including ministers, politicians, businessmen, journalist, scholars and activists - will ever be fully investigated.
    VMRO DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski. Photo: MIA
    No major incidents of voting irregularities have occurred at polling stations so far, Macedonia’s Interior Ministry announced at a press conference early on Sunday afternoon.
    However, ministry spokesperson Jordan Lamanovski stated that police had registered several smaller incidents and apprehended several persons by 1pm, but did not add any additional details.
    Photo: NOVA TV
    The voter turnout reached 34.43 per cent by 1pm, the State Electoral Commission reported.
    Head of the State Electoral Commission, Aleksandar Cicakovski. Photo: MIA
    The leader of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski, and the head of the main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, Zoran Zaev cast their votes today.
    Ruling VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski. Photo: MIA
    Opposition SDSM leader Zoran Zaev. Photo: MIA
    "If opinion polls prove correct, elections in a week’s time will return to power the two political parties responsible for the biggest scandal in the country’s short history.
    However, reversion to the status quo is not necessarily what it seems because the political crisis of the last year has unleashed forces that cannot easily put back in their box."
    Read the whole comment written by Roland Gjoni, a researcher on Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism at University College Dublin, and Timothy Less, the Director of the Nova Europa political risk agency.
    The voter turnout in the first electoral district, which covers much of Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, was 6 per cent higher at 1pm today compared with the early general election held in 2014, data from the State Electoral Commission shows.
    In the fourth electoral district, in southeastern Macedonia, the turnout was 4 per cent higher than in the 2014 polls.
    In both the second and fifth districts, in northern and southwestern Macedonia, the turnout was 3 per cent higher.
    Only in the sixth district, in the country’s northwest, and the third, covering much of the east, was the turnout almost identical to 2014.
    Prior to the elections, observers noted that a higher turnout than usual is likely to favour the opposition.
    Map of Macedonia's six electoral districts. Photo: SEC
    Voter turnout across all of Macedonia was almost 4 per cent higher at 1pm today compared with the early general election held in 2014, data from the State Electoral Commission shows.

    The turnout in today’s elections as of 1pm was 34.43 per cent while in 2014 it was 30.74 per cent.
    Photo: MIA
    The outcome of Macedonia's elections today will determine the country's course over the next four years as voters choose between two strongly opposed blocs, one centering on the VMRO DPMNE party, which has held power since 2006 and the other centered on the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM.

    Read our profiles of the leaders of the two parties:
    Nikola Gruevski (L) and Zoran Zaev. Photos: AP/Boris Grdanoski (L) and SDSM
    The number of voting irregularities identified between 10am and 1pm today is higher than those in the first three hours of voting from when the polls opened at 7am, Darko Alekstov, the head of the NGO MOST, which is providing monitors for the election, announced at a press conference.
    Aleksov noted that many irregularities refer to voters who were not found on the electoral roll, but he also mentioned cases where voters had been instructed who to vote for at polling stations, as well as election materials being handled by unauthorized persons.
    Aleksov added that they had also identified several cases of photographing of ballot papers.
    Darko Aleksov. Photo: MIA
    Macedonia’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party has invited media and supporters to watch the election results at an event it has organised after the ballots close at 7pm in front of their party headquarters in central Skopje.
    VMRO DPMNE HQ in central Skopje. Photo: BIRN
    Since voting commenced at 7am until noon, the most reports that Macedonian police have received regarding electoral irregularities relate to voters being offered bribes and political party propaganda located near voting stations.

    The police reported that in Skopje’s Topaansko Pole district, a person in a parked car attempted to bribe voters at one polling station, while in the village of Volkovo, northwest of the capital, voters were allegedly bribed in the headquarters of one of the parties, although no additional details were given.

    In Dizhonska Street in northern Skopje, four persons were reportedly threatening voters to cast their ballot for a certain political party. According to the report the police received, one of the persons was armed.

    In the Skopje municipality of Shuto Orizari, dominated by a Roma population, a vehicle was spotted with mounted speakers instructing voters to choose a particular candidate, police stated.
    Photo: MIA
    Xhabir Deralla from CIVIL, an NGO which monitors the election, told a press conference that family and group voting has increased in Macedonia’s elections during the afternoon.
    The NGO also reports that there have been incidents of ballot stuffing in the Albanian dominated-municipality of Saraj, near Skopje, where they say that they have received confirmation that persons have voted in the name of four deceased voters.
    Deralla said that the intimidation of voters and political propaganda at voting stations continues and that there are cases where local electoral boards have breached electoral procedure.
    Xhabir Deralla. Photo: Civil
    The national voter turnout by 5pm was 60.38 per cent, the State Electoral Commission reports.
    This is more than 7 per cent higher than the turnout by 5pm in the last general elections in 2014, which was 53.24 per cent at the same time.
    Photo: MIA
    The voter turnout by 5pm today in all six electoral districts in the country is significantly higher compared to the last general elections in 2014.
    Voter turnout by 5pm
    2016 elections
    First electoral district
    Second electoral district
    Third electoral district
    Fourth electoral district
    Fifth electoral district
    Sixth electoral district
    2014 elections
    First electoral district
    Second electoral district
    Third electoral district
    Fourth electoral district
    Fifth electoral district
    Sixth electoral district
    Photo: MIA
    Polls are now closed in Macedonia's 2016 early general elections.
    The first unofficial election results from the State Electoral Commission, DIK, will be announced after 10pm, the DIK spokesperson Ljupka Gugucevska announced soon after the polls closed at 7pm.
    She added that the DIK is “satisfied how this Election Day went”.
    DIK spokesperson Ljupka Gugucevska. Photo: MIA
    “It is still too early to comment on the big turnout,” ruling VMRO DPMNE spokesperson Ivo Kotevski told a press conference after the polls closed on Sunday.

    “We think that this is owing to the tremendous motivation among voters who in the past days of the election campaign had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the electoral platforms of the political parties and to vote upon their will,” he added.
    The opposition Social Democrats spokesperson, Damjan Mancevski, also addressed a press conference after the polls closed, saying that his party wanted “to express our gratitude to the citizens of Macedonia for the high turnout.”

    “The people of Macedonia showed that they love their country and that they want life in Macedonia,” he said.
    Macedonia’s junior ruling party, DUI, is expecting “a big victory” for themselves in the elections, party spokesman Bujar Osmani stated after polls had closed, adding that they expect all political players to recognise the election results, whatever the outcome.
    The head of the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski, has arrived at his party’s headquarters in central Skopje, where the ruling party had earlier invited media and supporters to watch the election outcome.
    Nikola Gruevski [left]. Photo: BIRN
    Macedonia’s Ministry of Interior noted more than 100 election irregularities and incidents, it stated at a press conference after the polls had closed.
    Regardless, the election process took place in a calm atmosphere and with minor incidents, the ministry added.
    Voter turnout projections from MOST, an NGO that is monitoring the elections, show a high turnout in all six electoral district as of 6pm, an hour before the polls closed.

    First electoral district:       71.44 per cent
    Second electoral district:   64 per cent
    Third electoral district:       70.31 per cent
    Fourth electoral district:     72.95 per cent
    Fifth electoral district:        62.25 per cent
    Sixth electoral district:       50.28 per cent
    Prior to the elections, observers predicted that if the voter turnout was higher than usual, the opposition parties would be more likely to secure the votes in this high-stake election.
    At 5pm today, the voter turnout was already significantly higher than in the previous general elections in 2014, with an increase of over 10 per cent recorded in the second electoral district, covering northern Macedonia.
    As the votes are being counted, read more about what is at stake in Macedonia's 2016 general elections.
    Photo: MIA
    “The elections, in the technical sense, went flawlessly” the head of the State Electoral Commission, Aleksandar Cicakovski, stated at a press conference on Sunday evening.
    He announced that a more complete picture of the election results will come at around midnight.
    The president of the State Electoral Commission, Aleksandar Cicakovski. Photo: MIA
    There is an atmosphere of mild optimism in the main opposition Social Democrats’ headquarters in Skopje, where numerous journalists and party supporters are present, BIRN can report.
    The party has announced that it will publish its first unofficial results after 9pm.
    SDSM HQ. Photo: BIRN
    From a total of 126,915 counted votes - less than 10 per cent of the total amount - the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party has a slight lead over the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, the preliminary unofficial results by the State Electoral Commission show.
    VMRO DPMNE has won 51,978 of the counted votes while SDSM has received 45,279.
    In the Albanian bloc, the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, party has won 8,982 votes while the opposition BESA party has won 5,398.
    The opposition Alliance for Albanians has so far received 3,731 votes and the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians has won 3,238.
    The main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, claim that the party is winning the votes in the big urban centres across the country.

    SDSM spokesperson Petre Shilegov announced at a press conference that the party has a lead over the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party in the towns of Bitola, Kumanovo, Strumica, Struga, Kavadarci, Gostivar and Debar.

    “This all means that a big victory of the Macedonian people is in sight,” Shilegov said, amid an optimistic atmosphere. “This means that [Nikola] Gruevski’s regime is becoming history.”
    Petre Shilegov. Photo: BIRN
    The opposition Social Democrats have called their supporters to join a celebration in front of the government building in the Macedonian capital Skopje.
    According to predictions by the party, it will win 52 MPs, one more than the main ruling VMRO DPMNE.
    Meanwhile, VMRO DPMNE has remained silent, unlike in previous elections when the party always was the first to announced preliminary results and projections.
    Supporters of the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, are already cheering in the centre of Skopje after the party claims to be winning the election race in the main urban centres across the country.
    However, inside the headquarters of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party, a video wall is displaying projections of them winning 48 seats in parliament, two more than the 46 it has projected for the SDSM.
    Photo: BIRN
    Photo: BIRN
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