Sunday, June 08, 2008

Poll violence could harm Macedonia’s EU bid

Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian Prime Minister, had an overwhelming election victory on Sunday but the violence that marred it may perpetuate divisions and delay the country’s progress towards EU membership.

Mr Gruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party will have the healthiest majority in parliament for more than a decade, riding on a wave of nationalist anger over Greece blocking Macedonia’s Nato membership invitation in April.

The victory vindicated Mr Gruevski’s controversial decision to call a snap election but, with one man dead and nine wounded, some observers blamed him for ignoring the risk of violence among the 25 per cent Albanian minority, divided between two hostile parties, both with links to armed groups.

The violence could perpetuate an impression in the West that seven years after the country was pulled back from the brink of ethnic war, the Kalashnikov remains a part of Macedonia’s political process.

“We can expect a very bad report card,” said Dane Taleski, an analyst. “We won’t be getting a date for [EU] accession talks this year.”

Apart from the gunfire, which halted voting in one town, ballot boxes went missing and two election officials were held briefly by gunmen before police rescued them.

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