Macedonians to elect president in run-off

23rd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

No clear winner emerged from Sunday's presidential election though conservative candidate Gjorge Ivanov leads his rivals.

SKOPJE – Macedonia was to announce Monday who will face off in a second round after presidential elections passed peacefully, in stark contrast to 2008 polls that threatened the country's EU membership hopes.

"Macedonia has shown that it had capacity for fair and democratic elections," said conservative candidate George Ivanov, who won the first berth for the 5 April runoff with almost 39 percent of Sunday's vote.

The race for second place was too close to call, with Ljubomir Frckoski of the main opposition Social Democrats, independent candidate Ljube Boskoski and ethnic Albanian leader Imer Selmani fighting for the spot.

Brussels had called the elections a "moment of truth" for the ex-Yugoslav republic, and authorities were pressed to ensure there was no repeat of the unrest that marred parliamentary polls in 2008.

Elections watchdog the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe will give its verdict later Monday, after the electoral commission is scheduled to give its final results.

But the European Union's representative in Skopje, Erwan Fouere, congratulated Macedonia on the peaceful conduct of the vote.

"Of course we'll have to wait for the final... report, but from what I have seen at the polling stations I have visited... the elections seem to have taken place in a reasonably calm atmosphere," Fouere told AFP late on Sunday.

"For this I would like to congratulate the electoral board and especially the voters who despite the bad weather came out to vote."

Macedonia is yet to start EU accession talks four years after becoming an official candidate to join the bloc, while its hopes of entering the NATO military alliance have been blocked by Greece over an 18-year name dispute.

The Balkan country came close to a full-blown war during a 2001 conflict between security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels that ended with a peace accord giving the minority more rights and control over local affairs.

"We have shown through our actions that there are European values in Macedonia, that people are living the European dream and that Macedonia deserves to be a member of the EU and NATO," Ivanov said.

"These elections represent an important step for Macedonia towards the European Union," he said, calling for a strong turnout in the runoff where he expects to face Frckoski.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who heads Ivanov's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, hailed the vote as "one of the most successful" in Macedonia since it became independent from the former communist Yugoslavia in 1991.

The elections were "a victory for Macedonian citizens" and "showed that we had the capacity and political will to conduct calm elections and follow the path to Europe," said Gruevski.

Frckoski's Social Democratic Union (SDSM) party said it was confident of securing victory in the second round.

"Those in power are losing the battle," said SDSM spokesman Emiljan Stankovic.

Sunday's presidential poll was held in conjunction with local elections in which voters were also asked to elect mayors and councillors of major towns in Macedonia.

Authorities had boosted security to prevent any repeat of the shootings in which one person was killed and several wounded during parliamentary elections on 1 June 2008 in an ethnic Albanian area.

Ethnic tensions still linger in Macedonia eight years after it averted a civil war between its Slavic majority and ethnic Albanian minority, who account for 64 percent and 25 percent of its 2.2 million population, respectively.

AFP / Expatica

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