Voters in Macedonia headed to the polls on October 29 for the second round of local elections.
The ruling Social Democratic Union (SDSM) won a sweeping victory in the first round, delivering a severe blow to the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party that ruled much of the country for more than a decade.
The runoffs took place in 35 cities, towns, and municipal districts out of Macedonia's 81 municipalities plus the capital, Skopje.
The others chose their mayors in the first round on October 15, when one of the candidates reached the threshold of 50 percent of votes.
Election authorities said turnout was nearly 44 percent two hours before polls closed -- lower than the 49 percent reported at the same time in the first round.
Nongovernmental organizations monitoring the elections reported a small number of violations, including cases of family voting.
VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, who is also Macedonia's former prime minister, denounced an "undemocratic atmosphere” as well as "threats, pressure, and blackmail" on voters.
The SDSM, led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, already won the mayoral races in 37 municipalities, and the VMRO-DPMNE won in the first round only in three rural areas near the capital, Skopje. In the biggest prize, the SDSM wrested control of Skopje from the VMRO, headed by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
On October 29, 20 municipalities saw a direct confrontation between mayoral candidates from the SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE, according to Balkan Insight. In 14 of them, the SDSM secured a lead in the first round, while the VMRO-DPMNE had a slight lead in six.
The junior ruling party Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), which secured victories in two municipalities in the first round, led in most municipalities in the northwest of the country, where most ethnic Albanians live.
But a coalition made after the first round between another junior ruling party, the Alliance for Albanians, and the opposition BESA movement threatens the DUI’s dominance. In the first round in most of the mainly ethnic Albanian areas, these two parties' combined votes either matched or exceeded the number of votes won by the DUI.
Albanians make up about a quarter of the country's population of about 2.1 million.
Addressing supporters following the first round of voting, Zaev said that the results mark the end of an era of "nationalism" in Macedonia presided over by Gruevski and the VMRO during 11 years in power.
Gruevski, who faces criminal investigations involving allegations of corruption and a wire-tapping scandal, complained of irregularities in the election but conceded defeat.
Zaev’s SDSM had sought a solid show of support as it looks to speed up the small Balkan state's bid for membership in NATO and the European Union.
The party formed a ruling coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI earlier this year in a move that ousted the VMRO and ended a three-year governmental crisis.