MACEDONIA VOTES 2009
Voting has opened in Macedonia’s presidential and mayor elections in a poll seen as a test of the country’s democratic record.
Polls opened at 0700 CET (0600 GMT) and will close at 1900 CET (1800 GMT).
The vote is closely monitored by the European Union after last year’s June general election was marred by violence and fraud in ethnic Albanian areas. The police are present at each of the around 3,000 ballot stations.
The voters will chose among seven presidential candidates, Georgi Ivanov from the main ruling VMRO DPMNE conservative party; Ljubomir Frckoski from the main opposition, the Social Democrats; Agron Buxhaku from the governing Democratic Union for Integration, Nano Ruzin from the Liberal Democrats, the independent candidate Ljube Boskoski, Mirushe Hoxha from the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians and Imer Selmani from the newly-formed New Democracy party.
In a largely colourless campaign, the relative popularity of the ethnic Albanian candidate Selmani, has raised eyebrows. Opinion polls show he has a chance of becoming the first ethnic Albanian to enter the second round of the presidential elections, scheduled for April 5.
However opinion polls show Ivanov has a firm lead and Selmani and Frckoski are seen as the most probable runner-ups.
Together with the Prime Minister, the new President will have to tackle the Athens-Skopje name row right away. Last year’s Greek veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership because of the unresolved row left the country out of the alliance and is now threatening to stall its European Union membership bid as well.
While the local election where 84 mayoral seats are up for grabs has been overshadowed by the presidential race, the battle for the Mayor of the capital Skopje is seeing 11 candidates vie for the prestigious post.
The State Election Commission has accredited 6,981 domestic observers and 524 foreign monitors, mostly coming from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
If no presidential candidate wins more than half of the votes in the first round a run-off will be staged on April 5 between the two front-runners. The same applies for the mayoral candidates.
If the country pulls off a smooth election it can hope for a swift removal of EU visas put up against travelling Macedonian citizens and a date for the start of its EU accession talks this autumn.