Macedonia holds presidential election

Macedonia holds presidential election
A woman walks past campaign posters of President of Macedonia Ivanov in Skopje.

SKOPJE - Macedonians will vote for a new president Sunday, in a poll seen as a test for the ruling party ahead of general elections later this month in the EU candidate country.

The election of the largely ceremonial post of president has been overshadowed by the dire economic situation in the country of two million people, where more than one in four is unemployed.

Four candidates are in the running, including incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov, from the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, who is bidding for a second five-year term.

The latest opinion polls put Ivanov on around 30 percent of the vote, with his main rival, opposition candidate Stevo Pendarovski, on 16 percent.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes cast in Sunday's first round, the two top rivals will go head-to-head in a final run-off on April 27, when the parliamentary elections will also be held.

The campaign has been dominated by the economy in Macedonia but the opposition has sought to shift the focus onto a row with neighbouring Greece over Macedonia's name. This issue, the opposition argues, is hampering the country's economic and political development.

Since Macedonia won independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has raised objections to its name, arguing it implies a territorial claim over a northern Greek province of the same name.

The row has stymied Macedonia's efforts to join both NATO and the EU. It has been a candidate country to join the 28-member European Union bloc since 2005.

Analysts say Skopje can either strike an unpopular deal with Greece that would unblock the stalemate or risk continued economic and political damage.

The opposition forced the early parliamentary elections on April 27, accusing the ruling party of lagging behind with reforms needed in the poor country.

Surveys suggest the ruling VMRO-DPMNE will win 59 of the 123 seats in the Macedonian parliament with the opposition clinching 36 seats.

The leader of the VMRO-DPMNE, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, has been in power since 2011, aided by junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration.

Ethnic Albanians make up some 25 percent of Macedonia's population.

Relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians have been strained since the end of a seven-month conflict in 2001 that pitted the landlocked Balkan country's armed forces against ethnic Albanian rebels.

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