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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Peace wins in Macedonia poll
Macedonian youth celebrates poll result
Voters' expectations are high

The Macedonian elections have delivered a resounding victory to the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDSM), turfing out the nationalists led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgevski.

The voters' rejection of the current government has had as much to do with concern over corruption as the fear of another Balkan war

The clarity of the outcome in itself is good news for Macedonia - the worst possible result would have been a narrow victory for either side.

That would have raised the spectre of a contested result, with claims of electoral fraud and the possibility of public unrest.

For now, Macedonia is at peace. It is a fractious peace, underpinned by the presence of Nato monitors and plagued by sporadic outbursts of local violence. But it shows no serious sign of collapse.

However, the voters' rejection of the current government has had as much to do with concern over corruption as the fear of another Balkan war.

The pressure will be on the SDSM, and its leader, Branko Crvenkovski, to deliver improvements.

The International Crisis Group, a think-tank which produces regular reports on the Balkans, describes corruption in Macedonia as "endemic".

In a recent report, it said corruption had "acquired the capacity not only to retard economic progress, but also to feed organised crime and, in turn, political and communal instability".

It identified four areas as a priority for a clean-up: the health insurance fund, the customs service, the prosecutor's office and the judiciary.

Political past

This is a return to power for Mr Crvenkovski, Macedonia's prime minister from 1992 to 1998.

A relatively moderate former communist, he broadly backs the Ohrid agreement, the peace deal which ended last year's uprising by ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Map of Macedonia showing Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo

It is a sharp distinction from his predecessor, Mr Georgievski, who gave his backing to the Ohrid agreement only under intense international pressure.

But Mr Crvenkovski has baggage of his own.

Four years ago, he was voted out of office after the electorate became disillusioned with the painful process of economic and political transition.

Macedonia was always one of the poorest republics in the old Yugoslavia.

For several years, it was under an economic embargo from its southern neighbour, Greece, and its infrastructure was further damaged in the fighting last year.

The SDSM's task will not be any easier this time.

Albanian minority

Mr Crvenkovski's most likely coalition partner looks to be the Albanian guerrilla leader turned politician, Ali Ahmeti.

Mr Ahmeti was the commander of the Albanian National Liberation Army during last year's uprising.

Among Albanian voters, his newly formed party all but swept the board, replacing the previous incumbents who had been discredited by their support for Mr Georgievski's government.

Mr Ahmeti campaigned on a platform of consistent implementation of the Ohrid agreement, which gives greater recognition to the Albanian minority.

Ethnic Macedonians, however, distrust Mr Ahmeti, whom they regard as a terrorist.

Mr Georgievski played on this in his own campaign, warning that a vote for the SDSM would let Mr Ahmeti into government.

Despite the bitterness stirred up by the campaign, Mr Georgievski conceded defeat in statesman-like fashion.

He said the elections had been the fairest and most democratic since independence, and he wished the winners good luck. They will need it.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Matthew Price reports from Skopje
"Macedonians are hoping for an improvement in the economy"
See also:

16 Sep 02 | Europe
13 Aug 02 | Europe
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