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Second Election Likely in Macedonia

November 1, 1999

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ In a setback to the ruling center-right coalition, the candidate of the former communists appears to have a strong lead in Macedonia’s presidential elections _ but not enough to avoid a runoff in two weeks.

The first unofficial results provided today showed Tito Petkovski, representing the former communist Social Democratic Party, with 38 percent of the vote. Boris Trajkovski, the candidate of Macedonia’s strongest party known by its initials VMRO, was in second with 24.6 percent.

Final results were not expected until later today.

Voters chose Sunday from among six candidates _ four Slavs and two ethnic Albanians _ to succeed President Kiro Gligorov, who led the country to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The constitution requires the winner to capture an absolute majority or face a runoff.

Petkovski attributed his strong showing in part to the ruling coalition’s failure to address Macedonia’s economic needs and other problems. Macedonia is one of the poorest Balkan countries, with unemployment at more than 50 percent.

``This is just half of the race,″ he said. ``I expect the citizens to confirm in the runoff what they have shown now.″

Another key issue appeared to be the willingness by the ruling coalition to meet many demands of the ethnic Albanian minority. Among Macedonia’s Slav majority, many fear bowing to ethnic Albanian demands could lead to a division of the country.

The conflict in Kosovo has heightened concern that ethnic tension could spread to Macedonia.

The support of ethnic Albanians, who make up about a quarter of the population, could play an important role in the runoff.

During the campaign, the Slavic candidates all have been promising economic prosperity and closer ties with the European Union and NATO.

After polls closed Sunday, one of the ethnic Albanian candidates, Muhamed Halili, complained of ``huge irregularities″ in many polling stations. Halili’s Party for Democratic Prosperity said its supporters may boycott the runoff, A1 TV reported.

Halili, whose party was allied with the former communists in the previous government, is considered more moderate than the other ethnic Albanian in the race, Muarem Nexhipi.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe said in a joint statement that the balloting was ``well-conducted with only minor incidents″ and that it was ``a further, clear improvement on past elections.″

The observers complained that in some polling stations not all parties were represented by poll watchers.

Apart from Petkovski and Trajkovski, the remaining two Slavic candidates were Vasil Tupurkovski, 48, and former Yugoslav diplomat Stojan Andov, 62.

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