NATO Envoy Narrowly Wins First Round of North Macedonia Election

(Bloomberg) -- A government-backed candidate scored a razor-edge victory in the first round of North Macedonia’s presidential election and will advance to a runoff against an opposition figure who opposes the deal that opened the way to western integration.

Stevo Pendarovski, the coordinator for the country’s accession talks to NATO, won 42.8 percent in Sunday’s vote, according to the Electoral Commission, with 99.5 percent counted. Opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, backed by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, was in second with 42.3 percent. Blerim Reka, who represented ethnic-Albanian parties, was third and won’t advance to the May 5 runoff.

NATO Envoy Narrowly Wins First Round of North Macedonia Election

After changing its name from the “Republic of Macedonia” to resolve a decades-long dispute with Greece, the former Yugoslav state won permission in February to become the military alliance’s newest member and hopes to start talks to join the European Union. But, with the country still caught in a tug of war for influence between the U.S. and Russia, the name-change deal is still facing resistance from the opposition.

"Going backward isn’t an option," Pendarovski, who won the first round by fewer than 5,000 votes, said after most of the votes had been counted. "Backward means blockade and crisis."

Siljanovska Davkova said she considers the question over the name change "legally open" in her campaigns to replace incumbent Gjorge Ivanov, who tried to block the deal with Athens. She has rejected the "North" designation and vowed to assess the legality of the constitutional amendment underpinning the agreement.

Pendarovski, 56, is backed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government. It came to power in 2017 after ousting Nikola Gruevski, a former premier and head of the VMRO-DPMNE party who has since fled to Hungary to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power. Pendarovski is expected to win the second round with the help of many of Reka’s supporters.

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