Macedonian president appeals for fair, free election Sunday

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 2:23 PM
Macedonian president appeals for fair, free election Sunday

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's president appealed Friday for a free and fair process during an early parliamentary election that was called with international mediation to defuse a nearly two-year political crisis triggered by a massive wiretapping scandal.

President Gjorge Ivanov said he expects "unanimous acknowledgement of the people's will" as expressed in Sunday's vote. Acceptance of the election's outcome would "mark the beginning of the end of the political crisis and the beginning of national reconciliation."

Eleven political parties and coalitions seeking representation in Parliament were holding their final rallies late Friday.

The early election was already deferred twice this year due to concerns over whether it could be fairly and transparently conducted.

A Western-brokered agreement helped end the crisis, which emerged when the opposition accused the conservative government of an illegal wiretapping operation that targeted 20,000 people — including police, judges, politicians and journalists.

As part of the deal, conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, 46, stepped down in January after 10 years in power, handing power to an interim government.

Gruevski, who blames the wiretaps on foreign spies and heads a 25-party coalition named "For a Better Macedonia," is running for re-election and leading in opinion polls.

Running against him is Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, 42, who heads a left-leaning coalition called "For Life in Macedonia.

"Citizens are choosing between life and the regime," Zaev said before his last pre-election rally in the capital, Skopje.

Nearly 1.8 million registered voters are eligible to choose 123 lawmakers for the single-chamber parliament. Three parliamentary seats are reserved for Macedonians living outside the country.

Macedonia has a population of 2.1 million, about a quarter of which is ethnic Albanian.