December 07, 1999
NYT - Wide Vote-Rigging in Rerun of Macedonia Election


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- International observers said Monday that they had found evidence of widespread vote-rigging at some polling places in a partial rerun on Sunday of a presidential election in Macedonia.

The findings appeared to back up at least some complaints by the opposition Social Democrats, who contend that the victory of the center-right candidate, Boris Trajkovksi, was illegal because the election had been manipulated.

The partial rerun was the Balkan state's third attempt to elect a president in five weeks. It was ordered after allegations of vote-rigging in a second round runoff last month between Trajkovksi and the Social Democrat, Tito Petkovski. The observers pointed out, though, that the rerun was in a very small percentage of polling places and that it was unlikely that they changed the result.

The reruns were at 230 of Macedonia's 2,973 polling places. Because a vast majority of the polling places where irregularities were suspected are in areas where ethnic Albanians predominate, the controversy has placed fresh strains on relations between them and the Slav majority in Macedonia.

"While the election proceeded smoothly in some polling stations, it is clear that in others serious breaches of the law occurred," said Mark Stevens, the leader of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Stevens said there had been clear improvements in some polling places. Macedonia has been an island of relative stability in the turbulent Balkans since gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

"However, in other polling stations, there was widespread ballot-stuffing and multiple voting, resulting in voter turnout figures which in some instances appear unrealistic," he said at a news conference in Skopje, the capital. The vote-rigging would have to have been very widespread to change the victor, as Trajkovski had a winning margin of about 70,000 votes, according to unofficial results.

Western officials view Trajkovski, a 43-year-old deputy foreign minister, as likely to be a reliable and constructive partner in a country that serves as a base for thousands of NATO troops supporting peacekeepers in neighboring Kosovo.

About 160,000 people, a great majority of them ethnic Albanians, were eligible to vote in the reruns. Trajkovski was likely to win substantial support from them, analysts said.

The European group's findings seemed liable to add to the already poisonous political climate surrounding the election, though.

"I cannot congratulate my opponent," Petkovski said today. "He does not have moral credibility nor is he legally elected. This process is seriously damaging the basic national and state interests."

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]