06 Apr 09

Ivanov Elected New Macedonian President

George Ivanov, the conservative candidate of the ruling right-of-centre VMRO-DPMNE party, won Sunday’s presidential elections, according to State Election Commission data.
This election “opens the European perspective for Macedonia,” Ivanov said. He stressed that his priorities would be EU and NATO membership and solving the long-standing name dispute with Greece.

With  99.4 per cent of the votes counted,  Georgi Ivanov has a 15 per cent lead over his nearest challenger.  Ivanov polled 59 per cent ( 451,000 votes) whilst Ljubomir Frckoski from the opposition Social Democrats took just 34 per cent (263,000 votes). Voter turnout was barely over the threshold of 40 per cent. 

Frckoski conceded defeat and said, “now God help Macedonia!” The Social Democrats said the elections were peaceful but far from democratic, alleging numerous irregularities by the ruling party, including the pressuring of voters.

Ivanov’s victory has cemented the power of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his party, which now controls a majority in Parliament and most municipalities, including the capital Skopje, as well as the Presidency.

A low turnout for the presidential poll was reportedly evident in ethnic Albanian-populated areas. Ethnic Albanians make up one-quarter of Macedonia’s population.

Domestic and international monitors have so far noted several minor flaws in some areas. Group voting was mentioned as the most frequent irregularity.
 
This poll was seen as a test of the country’s democratic credentials. The vote was closely monitored by the European Union after last year’s June general election was marred by violence and fraud in ethnic Albanian areas. As with the first round of the Presidential elections on March 22 – which international observers gave their approval to – the police were present at each of the around 3,000 ballot stations in order to ensure peaceful voting on Sunday.

If Macedonia also receives a positive assessment for the second round of voting, it can hope for a swift removal of the EU visa regime for travelling Macedonian citizens, as well as a date for the start of its EU accession talks this autumn.
 
Macedonia has been an EU candidate state since 2005, though the EC last year said that Skopje was still not ready for the start of accession talks, largely because of the violence and allegations of fraud that marred the 2008 general election.

(Reporting by Sinisa-Jakov Marusic)

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