Presidential runoff in Macedonia starts

Almost 1.8 million people are eligible to cast ballots to choose the new president, who will have a five-year mandate.

Presidential runoff in Macedonia starts
Macedonians were going to polls in a presidential runoff election seen as a key test of the Balkan country's democracy if it wants to prove its EU and NATO credentials.

The front-runner is George Ivanov, the candidate from the ruling centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party who came first with 35 percent of votes in a first round ballot two weeks ago.

His opponent is Ljubomir Frckovski of the main opposition and centre-left Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) who picked up 20 percent of votes on March 22.

Almost 1.8 million people are eligible to cast ballots to choose the new president, who will have a five-year mandate.

The post is largely ceremonial, but the president is officially the supreme commander of the army, with decision-making authority in foreign policy and the judiciary.

Another decisive issue will be the voter turnout, which needs to surpass 40 percent in order for authorities to deem the election valid.

If the turnout threshold is not met, the elections will have to be repeated from scratch, including a new first round, according to Macedonia's electoral law.

The turnout in the first round reached 56.88 percent.

The country narrowly avoided full-out war between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in 2001 but violence led to one death and injuries in last year's parliamentary voting.

Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2005 but has not advanced since then and Greece has blocked its NATO application in a 17-year-old dispute over Macedonia's name.

Large posters of the two men as well as local mayoral candidates decorate streets across the country, but not everyone is swept up in the campaign spirit.

"There is a saying in Macedonian: from two evils, you must choose one," said Metodi Jordanov, 38, a T-shirt maker from the eastern manufacturing town of Stip. "Nothing will change."

Hundreds of OSCE election observers have fanned out across the country to judge the fairness of the vote, and are keeping a close eye on potentially tense towns. Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's two million people.

In Skopje on Saturday night hundreds of ethnic Albanians celebrated neighbouring Albania's entry into NATO earlier in the day. Many feel Macedonia's leaders have not shown the necessary resolve to solve the country's name dispute with southern neighbour Greece which blocks their NATO entry.

Polls show Ivanov, backed by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, ahead, making his party likely to gain control of the parliament and presidency. Outgoing President Branko Crvenkovski is a member of the SDSM opposition and has criticised government policy.

The new president can have an impact on economic policy amid the world crisis as he nominates the central banker. Officials say they can also refocus on the economy once the campaign ends.

"The government was not to the full extent free to explain its policies or to undertake some measure because of the total atmosphere, so as to not contribute to all this noise that was present," Finance Minister Trajko Slaveski told Reuters.

Macedonians will also vote for mayors of 43 municipalities, including the capital Skopje.

More than 500 international and 7,000 local observers were monitoring the election.

Polling stations will close at 7 pm (1700 GMT), with preliminary results expected later in the night.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Nisan 2009, 18:44