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article imageNorth Macedonia president vote heads to runoff

By AFP     Apr 22, 2019 in World

North Macedonia's centre-left presidential candidate held a razor-thin majority over his right-wing rival after the first round of polls, election results showed Monday, with low turnout spelling potential trouble for the runoff.

The ruling Social Democrat party's favoured candidate Stevo Pendarovski garnered 42.85 percent of the votes and the opposition-backed Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova 42.24 percent, the electoral commission said.

The third candidate, 59-year-old Belrim Reka from the ethnic Albanian minority, is now out of the running after winning around 11 percent of the votes.

The results illustrated a sharp split in loyalties among the populace, as well as widespread apathy in a country where corruption and cronyism has eaten away at faith in politics.

Only 41.8 percent of the Balkan state's 1.8-million registered voters cast ballots on Sunday, barely passing the 40-percent threshold that will also be required to make the runoff on May 5 valid.

Although the presidency is a largely ceremonial post, a failure to meet the turnout minimum would leave the divided country with an uncertain political future.

While Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has talked down the risks of too low a turnout, he said there would be three options: holding a re-run of the runoff, passing constitutional changes to remove the threshold, or giving parliament the power to appoint the president.

The presidential poll was the first since Zaev finalised a deal this year with Athens to add "North" to his country's name, ending a decades-long identity row between the neighbours.

Stevo Pendarovski gave his first place finish in Sunday's presidential election the thumbs  up ...
Stevo Pendarovski gave his first place finish in Sunday's presidential election the thumbs up at a press conference. However the centre-left Pendarovski will have to face his right-wing opponent Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova in a May 5 runoff as neither won an outright majority

The name-change enraged nationalists but cleared Skopje's path to join NATO and the EU -- ambitions Greece had previously blocked over the name issue.

While both sides claimed victory after the voting, the local Independent newspaper said in an editorial that there was no clear winner, urging candidates to "start from zero" in their campaigns and "address real citizens' needs".

More than a fifth of the country is jobless while average wages are stuck at around 400 euros ($450) a month, leading to huge numbers emigrating abroad.

"I did not vote and I don't plan to (in the runoff)", Trajce Deleski, a 45-year-old Skopje resident, told AFP.

"They (politicians) blame ordinary people for low turnout but it is their fault, not ours. Parties need to change," he added.

OSCE election monitors said the election was free and "well run", but called for reforms that would reduce barriers to voting, including the automatic exclusion of those with expired identification documents.

"The delegation regrets that the turnout was low for a presidential election. A mature functioning of the political system and a reform of the electoral law would re-engage citizens and ensure their active participation," Marie-Christine Dalloz, head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said in a statement.

On Sunday evening Zaev called on voters to back "progressive" Pendarovski, 56, instead of the opposition's Siljanovska, 62, who he described as "destructive".

"The world is tired of quasi nationalists and quasi patriots," he added.

Siljanovska, meanwhile, accused Zaev of losing his legitimacy and urged early parliamentary elections.

"The battle is in still in front of us," she said.

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