SKOPJE — Macedonia's presidential election looks set for a run-off vote later this month after preliminary results from Sunday's first round seemed to show the incumbent falling short of outright victory.
President Gjorge Ivanov, candidate for the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, heads the race with 51.8 per cent of the votes cast, electoral officials said.
His main rival, Social Democrat Stevo Pendarovski, won 36.3 per cent, unofficial results showed, based on just over 70 per cent of the vote counted so far.
However, a president can only be elected on the first round of votes in Macedonia if a candidate gathers the support of more than 50 per cent of all 1.7 million registered voters, around 870,000 votes.
But with turnout at just over 50 per cent, according to figures from the country's electoral commission, Ivanov has secured the backing of around 450,000 voters, taking the race between with Pendarovski to a run-off on April 27, along with early general elections in the country.
VMRO-DPMNE confirmed the commission's count, saying that "the numbers guarantee a more decisive victory than we have expected".
"We are counting on even greater support in the second round," said party official Vlatko Gjorvev.
The vote for the largely ceremonial post is seen as a bellwether for the VMRO-DPMNE's prospects in general elections as it seeks to steer the landlocked Balkan country towards EU and NATO membership.
Ivanov said he would push ahead with efforts to integrate Macedonia into the European Union and NATO – seen as crucial to addressing the ailing economy in which monthly salaries average just 350 euros (US$480) and a quarter of the population is out of work.
"We will keep on working on our strategic goals," Ivanov said. — AFP