Longtime EU hopeful North Macedonia holds presidential polls centered on bloc accession, rule of law

(24 Apr 2024)
RESTRICTION SUMMARY:

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Skopje, North Macedonia – 24 April 2024
1. Exterior of polling station
2. Macedonian flag
3. Voters entering polling station
4. Various of people voting
5. Ballot box
6. Various of person voting
7. List of presidential candidates
8. Voter casting ballot
9. SOUNDBITE (Macedonian) Nermina Georgevit, voter:
"From these elections I hope for better results, something better for our country, and I wish the best for the candidate who gets elected, to the new president and to the citizens of North Macedonia.”
10. Various of voter casting ballot
11. SOUNDBITE (Macedonian) Stavre Temelkovski, voter:
"I expect the civilization movement (referring to the Western system) to win, for us to integrate into all those pro-Western systems, and for a process of healing to begin — already three decades in, we’ve exhausted many generations."
12. Macedonian flag inside polling station
13.Various of street with poster of candidate Stevo Pendarovski
14. Macedonian flag in street
15. Various of poster of candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova on building
STORYLINE:
Voters in North Macedonia began casting their ballots for the first round of presidential elections on Wednesday.

It is the seventh such election since the small landlocked Balkan country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Seven candidates are vying for the largely ceremonial position.

With more than 50% of the country’s 1.8 million registered voters needed for an outright win, the contest is almost certain to head to a second round, which will be held on May 8 along with parliamentary elections.

Turnout must be at least 40% in the second round for the result to be valid.

The brief, two-week campaigning period has focused on North Macedonia’s progress towards joining the European Union, the rule of law, fighting corruption, combating poverty and tackling the country’s sluggish economy.

The two front-runners, according to opinion polls, are incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski, 61, who is seeking a second five-year term with support from the governing social democrats, and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, 70, who is supported by the center-right main opposition VMRO-DPMNE coalition.

It will be the second time Siljanovska Davkova is seeking the presidency, after losing to Pendarovski in 2019.

The two have differed in their approach to North Macedonia’s hot-button issue of EU membership.

The country has been a candidate to join the European bloc of countries since 2005, but was blocked for years by neighboring Greece in a dispute over the country’s name.

That was solved in 2018, but Bulgaria has since been blocking North Macedonia’s EU bid in a dispute over language and cultural heritage.

Sofia has said it will only lift its veto to EU membership if Skopje recognizes a Bulgarian minority in the country’s constitution.

EU membership negotiations began, along with fellow-candidate Albania, in 2022 and the process is expected to take years.

Pendarovski has called for the constitution to be changed to include the Bulgarian minority, while Siljanovska Davkova insists negotiations with the EU must be held under a new framework, and has remained publicly non-committal on the issue of the constitutional change.

Corruption is the other major issue on voters’ minds.

AP video shot by Florent Bajrami

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