SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Early returns from municipal elections being watched as a test of Macedonia's new left-wing administration indicated Sunday night that voters are backing the government.
Results from 30 percent out of the country's 3,480 polling stations showed the Social Democrat-led led coalition of Prime minister Zoran Zaev leading in 44 of Macedonia's 81 municipalities, including the capital of Skopje. Candidates from the conservative VMRO-DPMNE led in 13.
In the last local elections in 2013, the conservatives won 56 of 81 municipalities, while the Social Democrats won four.
"This is a strong punishment for VMRO-DPMNE," political analyst Gjorgi Spasov said on local TV channel 24.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev addressed supporters in front of the government building early Monday, claiming victory and congratulating people for contributing to a "free and fair" vote.
VMRO-DPMNE's leader, former Prime minister Nikola Gruevski, told supporters at his party headquarters late Sunday that an "atmosphere of fear and intimidation was created and we have reports of voters being bribed." He added that his party would file complaints alleging voting irregularities.
But he also hinted at a likely resignation as party leader. "The elections are not over yet and the biggest responsibility for the results goes to the leader," Gruevski said.
Police said that there were some reports of irregularities during voting Sunday but that the overall process was peaceful.
"The voting process was generally peaceful, without serious disturbances," police spokesman Toni Anglovski told The Associated Press after polls closed.
Police and local observers reported at least 26 cases of voting irregularities, such as family voting, photographing ballots and bribery attempts. Police said nine people had been detained in connection with irregularities.
According to election authorities, about 60 percent of the more than 1.8 million registered voters cast ballots.
The Social Democrats came to power five months ago amid a political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.