A presidential election in North Macedonia that gave voters another chance to express an opinion on their country’s new name will go to a runoff after turnout in the first round was too low for any candidate to win outright, election officials said.
The runoff on 5 May is inevitable because election law requires a candidate to get 50% plus one of registered voters to be elected in the first round. The state electoral commission reported the turnout on Sunday was 41.9%.
With about 97% of polling stations reporting results, Stevo Pendarovski and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova were in a close contest for the most support, the state electoral commission announced shortly before midnight (2300 GMT. Pendarovski, the joint candidate of the ruling Social Democrats and 30 other parties, held a slight lead from the unfinished tally, receiving 42.68% of the partial vote to Siljanovska’s 42.55%.
The main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party backed Siljanovska, the first woman to run for president in the country.
Blerim Reka, a candidate supported by two small ethnic Albanian political parties, had 10.4% in the latest returns. All three candidates for the largely ceremonial presidency are university professors.
North Macedonia was previously known as Macedonia. The name change took effect in February as part of an agreement to end a decades-long dispute with Greece.
In exchange, Greece said it would stop blocking the former Yugoslav republic’s path to membership of Nato and the European Union. Greece had opposed its young northern neighbour gaining international recognition, asserting sole rights to the Macedonia name.
Outgoing president Gjorge Ivanov, who couldn’t seek re-election due to term limits, tried to derail or delay the deal with Greece that gave rise to the name change.
The deal emerged as the main campaign issue of the presidential contest. Siljanovska vowed to challenge the agreement in the international court of justice in the Hague.
She said that as a constitutional law professor, she would “respect” the deal but also “will do my best to show that some of the solutions are against Macedonia’s constitution and against … the norms of the United Nations.”
Pendarovski said after he voted in the capital of Skopje that he expected North Macedonia to become a full member of Nato and the EU. He said he was a strong supporter of the deal with Greece that “fully preserves the national interest of both countries”.
Reka expressed hope that North Macedonia would “prove that it is ready for the start of the accession talks with the European Union.”
More than 3,000 domestic and about 420 international observers monitored the election. Domestic election observers said the election proceeded calmly.
North Macedonia’s struggles include a stagnant economy, more than 20% unemployment and pervasive corruption. At least 400,000 people, most of them young, have left the country in the past decade.