Macedonia Polls Open in High-Stakes Elections

Polling stations will be open in Macedonia until 7pm Sunday in an early general election in which more than 1.7 million people have a right to vote. They will be electing 123 legislators from six electoral districts. Three more legislators will be elected from the votes in diaspora.

This is the ninth general election since Macedonia became independent in the 1990s and the fourth early election in a row.

The outcome will determine Macedonia's course over the next four years as voters choose between two strongly opposed blocs, one centering on the VMRO DPMNE party, which has held power since 2006 and the other centered on the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM.

Opinion polls suggest Macedonia might be heading into one of the tightest electoral races in its democratic history. The gap between the ruling party and the opposition is narrow and the number of undecided voters remains high.

The election comes amid a prolonged political crisis centering on opposition claims that Nikola Gruevski, the former Prime Minister and head of VMRO DPMNE, masterminded the illegal wiretapping of thousands of people, which he denies.

In February 2015, the opposition began releasing batches of covertly recorded tapes, which it claims show the VMRO-DPMNE-led government was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers, politicians, businessmen, journalists, scholars and activists.

The opposition claims the tapes provide evidence that top members of the government were involved in serious illegality, including rigging the general and presidential elections in 2014, manipulating the justice system, intimidating and controlling the media, and covering up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

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