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Europe

Voting for Unity in Macedonia

A month and a half after the death of President Boris Trajkovski in a plane crash, Macedonians are to elect a new head of state. All four candidates say they'll embrace Trajkovski's commitment to bury ethnic enmities.

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Branko Crvenkovski is favored to succeed Boris Trajkovski as Macedonian president.

The four men vying to replace Boris Trajkovski in Wednesday's elections all have one important thing in common with the late Macedonian president, analysts say. Like him, they want to bury past ethnic divisions that nearly led the country into civil war, and focus on bringing Macedonia closer in line with the European Union.

Up until his death in a February plane crash, Trajkovski had been one of the most energetic proponents of closer ties between Macedonia and Europe. He was also well-practiced at balancing the demands of Macedonian hard-liners and ethnic Albanian politicians.

So far, the 2001 peace deal he presided over has remained in place. The deal laid out reforms to end tensions between the two ethnic groups, making it possible to turn politicians' attention to the country's pressing economic problems, including a 40 percent unemployment rate.

Crvenkovski favored to win

The next Macedonian president will inherit Trajkovski's legacy. The favored candidate is the country's prime minister, Branko Crvenkovski, who represents the Macedonian majority. The post of president is largely ceremonial, so it is seen as a testament to the importance of Trajkovski's successor that Crvenkovski is willing to risk his more powerful role as prime minister.

Crvenkovski's campaign posters show him at the side of world leaders such as U.S. President George W. Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His slogan reads: "Branko Crvenkovski: the statesman."

"We need good interethnic relations, peace and security," he told a rally on Monday. "It means membership in NATO and the European Union. Let's grab the chance."

Crvenkovski's main rival in the election is another Macedonian, Sasko Kedev of the opposition VMRO party. Though he is largely unknown, analysts have not ruled out a surprise victory for Kedev, who's been positioning himself as the "new face of Macedonia."

Albanian candidates' slim hopes

Two ethnic Albanians are also in the race, though they are reported to have little chance of winning. Ethnic Albanians make up only a quarter of the population, and Macedonian voters are unlikely to cross ethnic lines.

Another possible outcome is no outcome -- at least in the first round. For the election to be valid, the winner has to receive over 50 percent of the vote. With four candidates, it's likely that there will be a second round runoff between the top two candidates.

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