SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonians were voting for a new president on Sunday in a ballot largely overshadowed by an upcoming parliamentary election in the small Balkan country, due in two weeks’ time.
Four candidates are competing for the largely ceremonial post and the main battle is between incumbent head of state Gjorge Ivanov, who is seeking a second term, and Stevo Pendarovski, a candidate of the center-left opposition.
No winner is expected on Sunday. A candidate must gather votes of more than 50 percent of all registered voters for an outright victory, a target achieved in the first round only once since Macedonia became independent in 1991.
If there is no winner, a run-off ballot between the two top contenders will be held two weeks later together with an early parliamentary vote, called after the multi-ethnic ruling coalition failed to agree on a candidate for president.
The deadlock within the ruling bloc started when the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) opposed a proposal by its senior partner, the VMRO-DPMNE party, to re-nominate incumbent Ivanov as its presidential candidate
The VMRO-DPMNE, led by conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, is the single strongest party and enjoys high popularity among Macedonians.
DUI argued Ivanov was not a “consensual” candidate acceptable to both Albanians and Macedonians.
Ethnic Albanians represent a third of Macedonia’s 2 million population. Relations with Macedonians, who are ethnic Slavs, have been tense since an ethnic conflict brought the country to the brink of a civil war in 2001.
To break the deadlock, both parties agreed to call a snap election for April 26, instead of a regular ballot due next year.
Recent opinion polls suggest that the general election will not significantly change parliament’s make-up, given the relatively poor ratings of the main opposition SDSM party.
Polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) and preliminary results will be published later in the evening.
Reporting by Kole Casule; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Erica Billingham