North Macedonia votes in poll crucial for EU accession

Aleksandar VasovicReuters
Voters in North Macedonia are voting in a double election - parliamentary and presidential. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconVoters in North Macedonia are voting in a double election - parliamentary and presidential. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

Polls have opened in North Macedonia in parliamentary and presidential elections, with the rightist opposition expected to gain ground against a ruling party that has failed to progress talks to join the EU and stamp out corruption.

No polls have been published ahead of Wednesday's vote but a stronger-than-expected showing from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party in the first round of presidential elections in April suggests voters are frustrated with the ruling Social Democrats.

In a school in the predominantly Albanian western town of Tetovo, where elections-related incidents happened in the past, six police officers were seen guarding the entrance to the polling station.

Some of those who voted said they wanted a government capable of bringing in investments and rooting out corruption.

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"I want to see more foreign help in controlling state institutions because if you leave locals to do it, they will just pass corruption from one to another," said retail worker Sem Beqiri, 27, an ethnic Albanian.

Wednesday's vote includes a run-off for the more ceremonial presidency and for parliamentary seats.

Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and will close at 7pm (1700 GMT).

The state election commission is expected to start announcing results from 3360 polling stations later on Wednesday.

In 2001, NATO pulled North Macedonia back from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency and promised faster integration into the EU and NATO.

Albanians account for about a quarter of the country's population of 1.83 million.

North Macedonia joined NATO in 2020 but it has made little progress with the EU integrations, in part because of opposition from EU members Greece and Bulgaria.

A 2017 agreement to change the country's name from Macedonia to North Macedonia ended the dispute with Greece, but Bulgaria lodged a veto in 2020, demanding constitutional changes over minority, history and language issues, which many North Macedonians say attacks their national identity.

The Ljubljana-based International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) said that a VMRO-DPMNE victory could complicate further EU talks, given their opposition to the agreements with Greece and Bulgaria.

"The cancellation of already signed and ratified international agreements and obligations and (their) renegotiation would mean the loss of another 20 or 30 years ... and giving up the country's Euro-Atlantic path," IFIMES said.

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