SKOPJE -- North Macedonia's nationalist opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has won mayoral races in 22 municipalities in the first round of the local elections, according to preliminary results announced by the State Election Commission.
The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev won nine mayoral races and its coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), won three in the first round of North Macedonia's local elections held on October 17, the commission said.
BDI is the largest ethnic Albanian party in the country and the country's third-largest political party.
A runoff scheduled for October 31 will decide the main battle for the post of mayor of the capital, Skopje, between SDSM candidates Petre Silegov and independent candidate Danela Arsovska, supported by the VMRO-DPMNE.
The country's third-largest city, Tetovo, will see a competition between the candidates of two ethnic Albanian parties -- Teuta Arifi of BDI and Bilal Kasami of BESA. Both DUI and BESA are part of Zaev's SDSM-led government coalition.
The overall results, if confirmed, would represent a drop in support for the SDSM, which held 57 mayoral posts following the 2017 local elections. VMRO-DPMNE held only five mayorships heading into this vote.
The commission announced that turnout in the local elections was 49 percent.
Posts in 90 municipalities, including the 10 that make up the capital Skopje, were up for grabs in the election.
Altogether, more than 11,000 candidates ran for local offices. They include about 300 mayoral candidates as well as 546 lists of candidates for municipal councils.
The four parties that form Zaev's governing coalition endorse liberal-democratic principles as well as integration into the European Union and NATO.
Those parties all ran candidates separately. Together, the four coalition parties controlled 70 municipal mayors' offices going into the October 17 vote.
The vote on October 17 also marked the introduction of a new system and terminals that used fingerprints to identify voters.
Some voters and officials struggled with the new technology, causing delays and pushing authorities to keep polls open a half-hour longer than planned.