A government-backed candidate scored a razor-edge victory in the first round of North Macedonia’s presidential election and will advance to a runoff against an opposition figure who opposes the deal that opened the way to western integration.
Stevo Pendarovski, the coordinator for the country’s accession talks to NATO, won 42.8 percent in the vote, according to the Electoral Commission, with 99.5 percent counted. Opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, backed by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, was in second with 42.3 percent. Blerim Reka, who represented ethnic-Albanian parties, was third and won’t advance to the May 5 runoff.
After changing its name from the “Republic of Macedonia” to resolve a decades-long dispute with Greece, the former Yugoslav state won permission in February to become the military alliance’s newest member and hopes to start talks to join the European Union. But, with the country still caught in a tug of war for influence between the US and Russia, the name-change deal is still facing resistance from the opposition.
Pendarovski, 56, is backed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government.