EU membership on the table as North Macedonia holds first round of presidential vote

North Macedonia on Wednesday held the first round of a presidential election – the first in a series of votes that could decide whether the Balkan country will join the European Union.

It will be followed by a presidential run-off and a parliamentary poll on May 8.

President Stevo Pendarovski of the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) is in danger of being unseated by Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, who is backed by the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE.

The elections come amid a two-year standoff between the government and the opposition over how to deal with neighbouring Bulgaria blocking its path to EU membership.

Relations with Bulgaria have been strained for years by disputes over the two countries' languages and history.

Sofia has refused to back the opening of accession talks between Skopje and the EU until North Macedonia recognises its tiny Bulgarian minority in the constitution.

Pendarovski and the SDSM are prepared to make the amendments but lack the numbers to win a parliamentary vote.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party says constitutional changes can only come after North Macedonia joins the EU, a stance the government says is unrealistic.

Wednesday's vote puts the two opposing views on the ballot.

According to the State Electoral Commission, with 94 percent of polling stations processed by 6:30pm, turnout was over 48 percent, seven points higher than the first round of the presidential elections in 2019.


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