North Macedonia votes in presidential polls as EU membership bid looms

Voting is under way in North Macedonia to elect a president ahead of an upcoming parliamentary election as the Balkan country continues to ponder its European Union membership bid.

The results of Wednesday’s polls are due later in the day, shortly after the polling stations close at 18:00 GMT.

The country has 1.8 million registered voters in a population of 2.3 million, and the turnout must be at least 40 percent for the result to be valid.

The 61-year-old incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski is a candidate of the pro-European Social Democrats running for a second five-year term and is challenged by the 70-year-old Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova from the opposition VMRO DPMNE coalition.

The two offer different views on how to deal with neighbouring Bulgaria’s condition of securing a recognition of a Bulgarian ethnic minority in the constitution of North Macedonia, in exchange for its backing of Skopje’s EU bid.

Pendarovski and the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) are prepared to make the amendments but lack the numbers to win a parliamentary vote.

The opposition coalition refuses to budge, saying any constitutional changes can come after North Macedonia joins the EU, a stance the government says is unrealistic.

EU membership talks for the Balkan state began in 2022 as part of a process expected to take years, and its candidacy for the 27-nation bloc dates back to 2005.

The country had already cleared another resistance to its membership bid from Greece in a 2019 move to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. The Balkan state joined NATO in 2020.

Parliamentary vote

The election on Wednesday comes ahead of a parliamentary vote on May 8.

If the presidential vote goes to a second round of voting, a possibility indicated by the results of state-released polls, a run-off vote will also be held on May 8.

The opposition’s Siljanovska-Davkova is expected to take 19.2 percent of the votes and Pendarovski 9.7 percent, according to state television. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, a candidate for the DUI party, is forecast to come third with 6.6 percent of votes.

In total, seven candidates are running for the largely ceremonial position after less than a month of campaigning, with discussions also ranging from the rule of law, fighting corruption to reducing poverty.

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