Macedonian conservative candidate George Ivanov scored a landslide victory on Sunday in a presidential election runoff seen as a key test of the Balkan country’s EU and NATO credentials.
Ivanov won 63.41 percent of the vote, compared with 36.56 percent for Ljubomir Frckoski of the main opposition Social Democratic Union party, electoral commission data based on more than 96 percent of polling stations showed.
The figures, expected to be confirmed later in the week, put turnout at 42.86 percent, scraping over a threshold of 40 percent and thus averting the need for the vote to be held from scratch within six months.
Speaking at the national TV, Ivanov said that his “three crucial priorities” would be Macedonia’s integration in the EU and NATO, as well as the solution of the 18-year name dispute with Greece.
Conceding defeat, Frckoski praised voters and party supporters for keeping the election free of the violence that marred parliamentary elections last year.
“We had a calm and peaceful election. I use this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Ivanov. God save Macedonia,” Frckoski told party supporters.
The same sentiments were echoed by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose VMRO-DPMNE party had earlier claimed the lead for Ivanov.
“We had free, fair, democratic and peaceful elections. Today the citizens showed democratic capacities and will for free, democratic elections. This is strongly opening our perspective for Euro-Atlantic integration,” Gruevski said.
VMRO-DPMNE candidate Ivanov, 48, campaigned on bringing prosperity and resolving a long-running dispute with Greece that has fouled up this former Yugoslav republic’s hopes of joining the EU and NATO military alliance.
A political scientist who once served as a visiting professor in Greece, Ivanov is known for his diligence, but has been criticized in some quarters for his lack of political experience.
The post, with a five-year mandate, is largely ceremonial, but the president is officially the supreme commander of the army, with decision-making authority in foreign policy and the judiciary.
Macedonia’s current president, Branko Crvenkovski, did not seek a second term in the election held amid heightened security to avoid the violence at last June’s legislative elections won by the conservatives.
Aleksandar Novakovski of the electoral commission said earlier the vote was held “in a calm and peaceful atmosphere” without any major “irregularities.”
“So far there is no information about any incident or any problem in the electoral process,” interior ministry spokesman Ivan Kotevski said.