Posted on May 05, 2019
Voting in a run-off for a new president in North Macedonia began today (May 5th), in an election that has been dominated by divisions over a change in the country’s name to mollify Greece and open the way for membership of NATO and the European Union, Reuters reports.
Greece had for decades demanded that the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic change its name from Macedonia, arguing that it implied a territorial claim on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia. The new name was formally ratified earlier this year.
But the accord continues to divide Macedonians and has eclipsed all other issues during campaigning for the presidential election, when about 1.8 million voters will choose between two candidates who got through to the second round.
The ruling coalition’s candidate, a long-serving public official and academic, Stevo Pendarovski, and his main rival, the candidate of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova were neck-and-neck in the first round two weeks ago.
In the run-off, political analysts give the advantage to Pendarovski, who is expected to win support from voters of the second largest ethnic Albanian party whose candidate Blerim Reka came third in the first round.
“We are half way to full NATO membership, and in two months we expect a date to begin membership talks with the EU,” Pendarovski told supporters at a rally.
“After 10 years Macedonia deserves to have a president who will speed up every positive government policy.”
Siljanovska-Davkova, a university professor, opposes the name change accord but is also pro-EU. She has accused the government of dragging its feet on economic reforms.
“I expect elections to be peaceful, and a better candidate to win,” said 69-year-old pensioner Ljubomir Ilijevski, adding that he voted for Siljanovska-Davkova.
“I could never vote for the one who betrayed our (country’s)name,” he said referring to deal with Greece for the change of name.
The main concern is that if voter turnout falls below 40 percent in the second round the election will be declared invalid. In that case, the speaker of parliament would become interim president and new elections would have to be held.
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