Macedonians have voted in local elections for the first time since 2001, when new political arrangements were devised to give more power to Macedonia's ethnic Albanian and other minorities. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the elections largely met international standards but there were some significant, serious irregularities.
Keith Whitmore is head of the Council of Europe Congress delegation. He said, "Polling went smoothly in many parts of the country. However, numerous cases of group voting, signatures missing on voter lists, and overcrowding in polling stations are disappointing. Group voting is a violation of the secrecy of the ballot, is unacceptable, and should be seen as a thing of the past." Other problems cited by international observers included instances of voter intimidation, ballot stuffing and evidence of bias in state-run news media.
The flaws in the Macedonian electoral process need to be addressed, says U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:
"We call on Macedonian authorities to investigate and prosecute any breaches of law during the polling and before the second round of polling is held on March 27th."
These Macedonian elections are an important test of the country's commitment to building strong and equitable democratic institutions that meet the standards of the Euro-Atlantic community. They are Macedonia's first municipal elections since passage last summer of decentralization legislation, which will strengthen democracy at the local level. They mark a significant step for Macedonia in implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is a precondition for Macedonia’s accession to the European Union and NATO.
Macedonia has a great deal to gain by ensuring that the second round of the elections on March 27th are free and fair. At stake is much more than short-term political gain by politicians or parties. Government and political party leaders must work to secure Macedonia’s future in Euro-Atlantic institutions by ensuring that the second round of voting meets democratic standards.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.