Macedonians pro-Western candidate wins first round of presidential vote
* Country's new name polarises voters, looms over campaign
* Next president will not have power to veto name change
* Deal with Greece a pre-condition for EU, NATO membership
(Recasts with preliminary results)
By Kole Casule
SKOPJE, April 21 (Reuters) - Macedonia's pro-Western
candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, narrowly won first round of
presidential vote dominated by deep divisions over a change of
the country's name to North Macedonia under a deal with Greece.
The change, which Greece demanded to end what it called an
implied territorial claim on its northern province also called
Macedonia, resolves a decades-old dispute and opens the door to
Macedonian membership of NATO and the European Union.
But the accord continues to divide Macedonians and has
eclipsed all other issues during campaigning for Sunday's
election, in which about 1.8 million voters were able to chose
among three candidates.
Results on the State Election Commission web site based on
74 percent of the votes counted showed Pendarovski in lead with
42.6 percent of the votes. His main rival, opposition candidate
Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova came second with 41.6 percent of the
The two will face a run-off on May 5, reflecting differences
over the deal pushed through by the pro-Western government of
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
Blerim Reka, candidate of the second largest Albanian party
came third with 11.5 percent of the votes.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT). The State
election commission put turnout at 39 percent.
Zaev's Social Democrats confirmed Pendarovski's victory.
"His lead (in the first round) means victory in the second
round," Aleksandar Kiracovski of the Social Democrats said,
reflecting opinions that Reka's voters would vote for
Pendarovski in the second round.
Analysts said the low turnout was down to disillusion among
voters at the government's lack of progress in attracting
foreign investment and tackling high unemployment.
"We need a new and better president, a nation's father that
will help move this country forward," said Sonja Kjurcieva, a
49-year old housewife from Skopje.
"Together with the government they will bring us closer to
The presidency has no authority to block constitutional
amendments that were passed earlier this year by a two-thirds
majority of parliament to enable the name change.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Pendarovksi said the vote for how the country's future will
be shaped rather than a choice of president.
Siljanovska-Davkova, an university professor, is supported
by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which strongly opposed the
"I expect to win the elections and be the first woman
president of Macedonia," Siljanovska-Davkova said after casting
"I am a professor of European law, so I'll respect (the
agreement with Greece)," she said. "But I'll do my best to show
that some of the solutions are against our constitution."
The presidency of the former Yugoslav republic is a mostly
ceremonial post, but acts as the supreme commander of the armed
forces and signs off on parliamentary legislation.
The refusal of outgoing nationalist President Gjeorge Ivanov
to sign some bills passed by parliament has delayed the
implementation of some key laws, including one on wider use of
the Albanian language - 18 years after an ethnic Albanian
uprising that pushed Macedonia to the brink of civil war.
(Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Potter and Louise
First Published: 2019-04-21 09:14:48
Updated 2019-04-21 22:15:09
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