Macedonia's ruling conservatives win local polls

Macedonia's ruling conservatives overwhelmingly won local elections held amid tensions with opposition socialists and against a backdrop of ethnic tensions, the electoral commission said Monday.

Both the commission and interior ministry have said Sunday's elections were held without major problems, despite fears that ethnic tensions and an ongoing political crisis could mar the polls.

According to preliminary results based on 98 percent of votes counted, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski will have mayors in 43 out of 81 towns -- including the capital Skopje.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) -- the junior partner in the ruling coalition -- won a majority in eight towns, including in the ethnically-mixed southwestern town of Kicevo for the first time.

The opposition Social Democratic party, meanwhile, got a majority of votes in four towns, while in seven others, elected mayors were either independent candidates or from minor parties.

The polls were held in a tense political climate, after the Social Democratic party boycotted parliament for several months over scuffles that broke out during a heated debate on the 2013 budget.

Recent ethnically-motivated incidents have also increased tensions in the country, where relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians have been strained since the end of a conflict in 2001 that pitted Macedonia's armed forces against ethnic Albanian rebels.

As such, the polls were monitored by more than 8,000 domestic and 400 foreign observers.

On Sunday, interior ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski told reporters "the vote was peaceful, fair and (held) in a democratic atmosphere and without a single serious incident."

Macedonia will be hoping that the lack of problems during the polls will help its bid to join the European Union.