North Macedonia Answers Name Row by Voting NATO Envoy President

(Bloomberg) -- The man coordinating North Macedonia’s upcoming NATO membership won the country’s presidential election, defeating a candidate who opposed a name-change.

Stevo Pendarovski got 52 percent in Sunday’s ballot, according to the Electoral Commission, with 99 percent of polling stations counted. Nationalist opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska Davkova had 45 percent.

The vote was a test for efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union for the country, which is caught in a tug-of-war for influence between Russia and the West. Pendarovski, a former presidential policy adviser supported by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, has pledged to push the nation of 2 million further toward EU entry after it received green light to join the military alliance in February.

"The result of this presidential election means a guaranteed path forward for all of us as people, as families, as a country in the communities of NATO and the European Union, where we belong," Pendarovski said after declaring victory.

Siljanovska Davkova also said she wanted to further integration, but she campaigned on opposing a name-change deal with neighboring Greece that was a key condition for the accession talks.

Zaev 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. The premier leads a coalition with the Democratic Union for Integration, a party representing ethnic Albanians -- about a quarter of the population whose support was seen as crucial for Pendarovski’s win.

While the post is mostly ceremonial, the president grants government-forming mandates and can veto laws, powers that can either ease or obstruct the country’s efforts to build deeper ties with richer EU states.

Lawmakers in all NATO members are now in the process of ratifying the accession protocol for North Macedonia to follow its regional peers Montenegro, Albania and Croatia into the military club. Slovenia and Croatia are already in the EU, while Serbia, Albania and Montenegro have applied, with the first one expected to join sometime next decade.

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