Pro-western candidate Stevo Pendarovski wins North Macedonia’s presidential run-off, promoting a government that changed the country’s name under a controversial deal with Greece and consolidating a push for membership in the European Union and NATO.
With 99.5 percent of the votes counted on Sunday, the State Election Commission said 51.7 percent of the ballots cast in the election went to Pendarovski from the center-left ruling SDSM Social Democrats party.
Pendarovski’s contender Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the candidate of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, also got 44.7 percent of the votes, according to the results.
The two rivals had finished neck-and-neck in the first round of voting two weeks ago.
The outcome puts more wind into the sails of the ruling coalition, which expects to get a date to start EU accession talks in June and become the 30th NATO member state next year.
“The victory of this concept brings a future for the republic of North Macedonia and it’s our ticket to Europe,” Pendarovski said after the vote results were released.
Pendarovski has been a supporter of his country’s name deal with Greece, which was finalized earlier this year and added the word “North” to Macedonia.
The deal ended a decades-long identity row with Greece, which argued that the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic’s former name implied a territorial claim on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia.
The agreement has, however, angered many inside North Macedonia, who believe the government’s move sacrificed the Balkan state’s identity.
Opposition-backed Siljanovska-Davkova is a staunch critic of the deal, and pledged she would restore the old name of the country if elected.
The election board put the turnout in Sunday’s vote 46.6 percent, slightly above the 40 percent threshold needed for the result to be valid.
The opposition VMRO-DPMNE protested the outcome, accusing the government of “engineering election.”
It claimed it had information of the ruling coalition bribing voters and threatening them, among other things.