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North Macedonia nationalist rides high in first round of presidential election

North Macedonia’s nationalist candidate Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova claimed victory in the first round of presidential elections on Wednesday (24 April) — the first in a series of votes that could decide whether the Balkan country will join the European Union.

According to the state electoral commission, with 90% of votes counted, Siljanovska-Davkova who is supported by the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE had romped to victory with almost 40%.

That put her way ahead of President Stevo Pendarovski of the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM), who claimed close to 20% of the votes.

The two will face off in the second round run-off on 8 May but the outlook is bleak for Pendarovski.

There will also be a parliamentary poll that same day.

Turnout was over 49%, according to the electoral commission, some eight points higher than the first round of the presidential elections in 2019.

About 1.8 million people — including a large diaspora — were eligible to vote, while more than 810,000 cast their ballots at 3,480 polling stations around the country.

The vote for the largely ceremonial presidency is widely seen as a litmus test for a parliamentary election next month in which the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE is seeking to unseat the ruling pro-European and centre-left Social Democrats.

“It is clear that this result is incredibly inspirational for me,” Siljanovska-Davkova, told reporters on Wednesday evening.

“I only know that what I promise I will implement in my own way. This is a beginning of a new era.”

Pendarovski admitted he was surprised by the wide gap.

“We expected less (difference), but tomorrow is a new day. We are starting from the beginning,” Pendarovski told reporters.

“My assignment is to promote the concept I believe in: a state that is not isolated and that is integrated in Europe.”

The elections came amid a two-year standoff between the government and the opposition over how to deal with neighbouring Bulgaria blocking its path to EU membership.

Relations between Sofia and Skopje have been strained for years by bitter disputes over the two country’s similar languages and history.

In 2022, Bulgaria agreed to a proposal by the then French Presidency of the Council of the EU to lift its veto on Skopje’s starting accession negotiations when North Macedonia adds the Bulgarian minority into the country’s constitution.

Pendarovski and the SDSM are prepared to make the amendments but lack the numbers to win a parliamentary vote.

The VMRO-DPMNE party says constitutional changes can only come after North Macedonia joins the EU, a stance the government says is unrealistic.

Source: Euractiv