Near complete results in Macedonia's early general elections show that the country's conservative coalition has gained a slim victory over its Social Democratic rivals, but with neither party winning enough parliamentary seats to form a government.
Sunday's election was called as part of a European Union-brokered deal to defuse a two-year-old political crisis prompted by a phone-tapping scandal.
Monday's results from 99.7 percent of polling stations show the conservative coalition, led by the VMRO-DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski, the former prime minister, with 38.06 percent of the vote.
|Gruevski of VMRO-DPMNE has declared victory [Reuters]
The figure put it slightly ahead of the leftist coalition, led by opposition leader Zoran Zaev's Social Democrats (SDSM), which got 36.69 percent.
The electoral commission gave no seat projections.
Without a majority in the 123-seat parliament, the winner will have to try to form a governing coalition with a smaller party.
Both parties on Monday had claimed victory in the snap elections.
"VMRO-DPMNE is the winner of this election," Gruevski, who had been Romania's prime minister since 2006, told supporters at the party's headquarters.
However, shortly afterwards the opposition SDSM also claimed victory.
"We are the winners!" Zaev told a cheering crowd of supporters in front of the government building in central Skopje.
"We have one more seat, we are waiting for the final results ... but the trend is clearly in our favour."
For voters however, the most important outcome will be to get a government capable of regaining stability after the long political crisis.
Gruevski was forced to step down in January after nearly 10 years in power after allegations of phone tapping, paving the way for Sunday's snap election that saw around 66 percent turnout.
The vote, which was twice delayed owing to international concerns over fraud, pitted Gruevski against his rival Zaev.
It was Zaev. 42, who released the tapes last year that appeared to show the government had tapped the phones of thousands of people, including journalists and religious officials, as well as alleging high-level corruption.
Gruevski denied the claims and accused Zaev of planning a coup with foreign support.
Zaev had pitched the vote as a choice between "doom or life" and pledged to stop an exodus of young people from the former Yugoslav republic, which remains one of Europe's poorest countries.
Source: News agencies