May 26th, 2024

EU hopeful North Macedonia to hold May 8 presidential runoff with center-right candidate in the lead

By Konstantin Testorides, The Associated Press on April 24, 2024.

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) – North Macedonia will head to a presidential runoff after no candidate secured enough votes to win outright in Wednesday’s first round of balloting held as the country seeks to enter into the European Union.

The second round of voting on May 8 will coincide with parliamentary elections. Preliminary results on Wednesday showed a strong shift in favor of the candidate backed by the center-right main opposition coalition, VMRO-DPMNE.

With 74.72% of the vote counted, Gordana Siljanovska Davkova was well ahead with 39.50% of the vote.

Incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski, who is seeking a second five-year term with support from the country’s governing social democrats, had 19.30%, according to the State Electoral Commission. He was followed by a government-allied candidate from the ethnic Albanian minority, Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, with 14.38%.

To win outright, a candidate would need to win support from more than 50% of registered voters, meaning Siljanovska Davkova and Pendarovski will meet in the presidential runoff.

Hopes are high in North Macedonia that the president will oversee long-anticipated entry into the EU.

The small Balkan country has orbited the 27-nation bloc for nearly two decades with little to show for its efforts.

Seven candidates were running for the largely ceremonial position, with the brief campaigning period focusing on EU accession, the rule of law, fighting corruption and reducing poverty.

Electoral commission head Aleksandar Dashtevski said earlier Wednesday that voting was going smoothly, with only a minor technical problem with biometric devices at some polling centers which was quickly resolved.

Siljanovska Davkova, 70, and Pendarovski, 61, agree that their country belongs in the EU. But they have differed on how to deal with neighboring Bulgaria’s insistence on Skopje enshrining in its constitution recognition of a Bulgarian ethnic minority. EU member Bulgaria has said it will otherwise block North Macedonia’s bloc membership bid.

North Macedonia has been a candidate to join the EU since 2005, but membership talks only began in 2022 and the process is expected to take years.

Voter Stavre Temelkovski said he had high expectations that North Macedonia would become a full-fledged EU member soon.

“I expect a civic movement to win, for us to be a part of all those pro-Western systems, and to start a process of healing for a state which has waited for almost three decades,” he said. “Many generations are exhausted.”

North Macedonia has 1.8 million registered voters, out of a population of 2.3 million.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. local time. About 320 international observers were monitoring the election.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of global elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/global-elections/

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