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Longtime EU hopeful North Macedonia holds presidential polls centered on bloc accession

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Election posters of Stevo Pendarovski, incumbent President and a presidential candidate backed by the ruling social democrats (SDSM), left and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, a presidential candidate supported by the center-right main opposition VMRO-DPMNE coalition, center top, are pictured in a busy street in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Monday.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Election posters of Stevo Pendarovski, incumbent President and a presidential candidate backed by the ruling social democrats (SDSM), left and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, a presidential candidate supported by the center-right main opposition VMRO-DPMNE coalition, center top, are pictured in a busy street in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Monday.

SKOPJE, North Macedonia >> Presidential elections are being held Wednesday in North Macedonia, a small Balkan country that has orbited the European Union for nearly two decades with little to show for its efforts to join the 27-nation bloc.

A second round of voting is almost certain to follow on May 8 — coinciding with parliamentary elections — as no candidate is expected to exceed the 50% threshold required for outright victory.

Seven candidates are running for the largely ceremonial position, with the brief campaigning period focusing on EU accession, the rule of law, fighting corruption and reducing poverty.

The latest poll by the Center for Political Research and Communications gave opposition-backed Gordana Siljanovska Davkova a 3.6 percentage-point lead over incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski.

Pendarovski, 61, is running for a second five-year term with support from the country’s governing social democrats.

Siljanovska Davkova, 70, is backed by the center-right main opposition VMRO-DPMNE coalition.

The two have differed on how to deal with neighboring Bulgaria’s insistence on Skopje enshrining in its constitution recognition of a Bulgarian ethnic minority. EU member Bulgaria has said it will otherwise block North Macedonia’s bloc membership bid.

North Macedonia has been a candidate to join the EU since 2005, but membership talks only began in 2022 and the process is expected to take years.

Other presidential candidates include law professor Biljana Vankovska, running for the leftist party Levica, and two members of the ethnic Albanian minority: Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, and Arben Taravari from an opposition ethnic Albanian party.

Unless someone wins outright Wednesday, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates, where turnout must be at least 40% for a valid result.

North Macedonia has 1.8 million registered voters, out of a population of 2.3 million.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (0500-1700GMT) local time. There are no exit polls and the first results are expected early Thursday.

About 320 international observers will monitor the election.

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