Gruevski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO, conservative, Macedonian nationalist) won 38.1% of the votes and 51 of the 120 seats that make up the Macedonian Parliament, or Sobranie. VMRO narrowly defeated Zaev's Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which got 36.6% of votes and 49 seats.
But the allocation of seats is still not official and may undergo changes, the Electoral Commission warned. The same was said by civil organization Most, which is monitoring the election.
Both parties have proclaimed themselves election winners, even before knowing the final outcome. The Social Democrats have complained of irregularities, while VMRO announced the party will begin consultations to form a government.
Albanian parties remain strong
Given the fact that a VMRO-SDSM agreement is highly unlikely, any of the two main Macedonian parties willing to forge a majority in Parliament will need to agree with the Albanian parties, that altogether have obtained close to 18% of the votes and 20 seats. Analysts suggest that some Albanian votes have now gone to the Social Democrats, which over the campaign took a more conciliatory stance towards the Albanian community than the VMRO did.
The Albanian party with the most votes (7.3%) is the Democratic Union for Integration (DBI), a conservative force led by Ali Ahmeti, one of the founders of the KLA, or UÇK, in Kosovo and former political leader of an Albanian militia (also known by the KLA/UÇK acronym) that in 2001 fought the Macedonian army. Since then, Ahmeti has participated in Macedonian politics and has successively forged alliances with either the Social Democrats or the VMRO.
Over the campaign, DBI was unclear whether it would again support a Gruevski-led government. With the distribution of provisional seats, the two parties together would have 61 seats, enough to have an absolute majority. But this time, after losing half of its previous electoral support, DBI leaders could choose not to repeat an alliance with Gruevski it they deem it responsible for the party's loss of votes.
From the outset, the other three Albanian parties (Besa Movement, the Alliance of Albanians and the Democratic Party of Albanians) announced they would not be joining a VMRO-led coalition. This theoretically opens the door to Zaev to try and reach an agreement with all four Albanian parties. However, in this Balkan Insight analysis it is suggested that such a five-party agreement is unlikely too, given the fact that Besa Movement —which is highly critical of the previous government and of corruption— said it will not join a government where DBI has seats.
If all those mutual vetoes are confirmed, no choice will be left but to call a new election that could be held next year. Meanwhile, the formation of a technical, caretaker government would be an option.
Gruevski's ten-year controversial tenure
Gruevski became prime minister for the first time after the 2006 election. His successive governments have been accused, both by the opposition and civil society organizations, of corruption, of nepotism and of increasing authoritarianism. The EU has recently voiced concern over the latter topic.
Protests erupted in May 2015 after an illegal wiretapping scandal involving the government. The protests turned violent and left at least 29 people injured, including protesters and police. They ended with an agreement between the main parties that included Gruevski's resignation (the PM finally stepped down in January 2016) and early elections.
April to July 2016 a new wave of protests erupted after Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov decided to stop the investigation against Gruevski on the wiretapping scandal. The protests were supported by the Social Democratic Union and several other left-wing and centrist parties.
Since then, tensions between Gruevski and the opposition have been high. They peaked during the election campaign, when the former prime minister said that if 19th and 20th century Macedonian armed revolutionaries would still exist, Zaev would have been killed. That statement sparked a great controversy in the country.
(Updated 14 December.)