Early results in Macedonia have produced no clear winner in the race that pitted incumbent President Gjorge Ivanov against opposition candidate Stevo Pendarovski. The run-off polls are projected for April 27.
Several hours after polls closed on Sunday, Macedonia's electoral commission released preliminary results of the presidential race, showing a majority for ruling conservative party candidate Gjorge Ivanov. The incumbent president garnered roughly 52 percent of the vote, based on over 70 percent of ballots counted. His Social Democrat opponent, Stevo Pendarovski, trailed behind at roughly 37 percent.
Although Macedonian law requires only a simple majority to be elected president, Ivanov's 52 percent wasn't enough to secure him another term due to low voter turnout. Half of Macedonia's 1.7 million registered voters must cast their ballots in favor of one candidate for an outright winner to be declared. On Sunday, only half of those who could vote turned out, prompting the need for a run-off election.
Nevertheless, the incumbent president expressed optimism on Sunday night at the early results.
"With this result, the citizens have already said what will happen on April 27, a double victory in the presidential parliamentary election," the candidate from Macedonia's conservative ruling party, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Part for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DMNE), said.
VMRO-DMNE party official Vlatko Gjorvev called the Sunday vote "a more decisive victory" than expected, while adding that the party was "counting on even greater support in the second round."
The April 27 polls will coincide with snap parliamentary elections. The opposition called for a government reshuffle over what it describes as a lack of reform by the ruling party. The presidential race is seen as a bellweather of any upcoming shifts in public approval for ruling Prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who has been in office since 2011.
Macedonia currently faces high unemployment, with roughly one in four people jobless. However, much of the recent political campaign saw arguments between the opposing parties over the country's focus. The ruling conservatives prioritized a spat with Athens over a northern Greek province also named Macedonia. Meanwhile opposition candidates called for greater attention to Macedonia's efforts to join both NATO and the EU, where it has held candidate status since 2005.
kms/ (AP, AFP, Reuters)