Zoran Zaev, a former premier who resigned in January being unhappy with the European Union failure to set a date for the start of the accession negotiations with Skopje, declared victory in the three-day early vote in North Macedonia, the Beta news agency reported on Thursday.
Later in the day, according to the Electoral Commission (DIK) preliminary results, Zaev social-democratic coalition won 46 out of 120 seats, followed by the nationalist VMRO DPMNE with 44 mandates. The local Albanian parties won 28 seats in a new parliament.
DIK also said that it was a chance for the country’s Lefts might have two MPs for the first time.
"We made it! With convincing and stable advantage. At this moment, we have three mandates more than VMRO DPMNE, and expect additional two or three," Zaev, the leader of the ruling, social-democrat SDMS list 'Mozemo' (We can), told his supporters early on Thursday.
Zaev, likely prime minister-designate, said his coalition won because the citizens voted for "safe future, unity and solidarity, economic patriotism, order and justice."
A few minutes before Zaev, the leader of the nationalist opposition VMRO DPMNE Igor Janusev said it was the dead heat race and that his party would enter the competition for a new government.
Earlier on Thursday, the country's Electoral Commission, DIK, said that after almost two-thirds of the vote counted, Zaev's coalition had less than one percent more than VMRO-DPMNE', adding the turnout was 50.86 percent.
Unofficial results showed SDMS won 36.94 percent of the votes cast, followed by VMRO-DPMNE with 35.8 percent.
Due to the coronavirus epidemic in the country, North Macedonia held the three-day voting from Monday to Wednesday in the early elections.
Among the Albanian parties, the Democratic Alliance for Integration, DUI, had 10.18 percent of the votes, while the coalition Alliance for Albanians – Alternative won 7.93 percent.
The head of DIK Oliver Derkovski told media the data showed that "the competitors are in a dead heat race," adding DIK's website was under hacker attacks.
He said the turnout data was available from 3,466 out of 3,480 polling stations in all six electoral units just before they closed at 9 pm on Wednesday, showing that at the time 922,678, or 50.86 percent cast ballots and that in the last 15-20 minutes the turnout usually rose.