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North Macedonia elects government-backed candidate as new president

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North Macedonia elects government-backed candidate as new president
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REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
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North Macedonia's has elected pro-Western presidential candidate, Stevo Pendarovski, following a run-off election on Sunday.

Results showed the 56-year-old had won 51.66% of the vote over his rival, nationalist Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, who gathered 44.73% of the votes.

The leftover votes, 3.61%, were considered void.

In a speech to journalists, Pendarovski vowed to be "a president to all" and said the country could now go "forward together".

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was also in attendance at the speech, and congratulated the winner.

The campaign dominated by divisions over a change to the country's name that was agreed to mollify Greece and open the way for EU and NATO membership.

Pro-Western candidate Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova came out as the top candidates in the first round.

Both candidates were close: Pendarovski got 42.8% of votes, according to results on the State Election Commission website, while Siljanovska-Davkova came second with 42.2%.

In the first round, the Prespa Agreement with Greece — the accords which saw the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) become North Macedonia — was the focal point. The name change has galvanised European aspirations, whilst also rallying nationalists who say the country has been robbed of its dignity.

Ruling coalition candidate is favourite

Pendarovski is the candidate of the governing SDSM coalition and a former adviser on national security in the presidential cabinet. He has adopted the campaign slogan of 'Together Forward' and is attempting to mobilise support across the ethnic divides of North Macedonia.

He is also a firm supporter of the Prespa Agreement, which opened the door to EU and NATO membership.

His pro-European message is being countered by Siljanovska Davkova, the candidate from the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE. The university professor is playing to a significant crowd of Macedonians who are against by the Prespa Agreement, adopting the slogan 'Justice for Macedonia'. She has called for the Prespa Agreement to be changed and has called it “degrading”.

“Good neighbour-relations are not built with forgotten dignity," she told Euronews.

Ahead of Sunday's run-off vote, political analysts gave the advantage to Pendarovski over his rival, as he is expected to win support from voters of the second largest ethnic Albanian party.

Threat of low turnout

One concern on Sunday was low turnout among the country's 1.8 million eligible voters.

It reached 46.6%, just 6.6% over the threshhold necessary for the election to be considered valid.

The low turnout was attributed by experts to a slow uptake in reforms.