Wed, 24 Jul 2019

SKOPJE -- Voters in North Macedonia are casting their ballots as three candidates vie to become president of the the small Western Balkan nation.

The competitors for the largely ceremonial post, all academics, include the countrys first female presidential candidate since it peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and are scheduled to close at 7 p.m.

Conservative Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, 63, is a constitutional law professor who ran as an independent but is now backed by the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party.

SEE ALSO: It's All Academics When It Comes To North Macedonian Vote

She was a vocal opponent of the deal made with Greece to change the countrys name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. Athens for decades had objected to the use of the name, saying it implied Skopjes territorial desires on Greeces northern province by the same name.

Stevo Pendarovski, the country's coordinator for NATO accession, is backed by the ruling Social Democrats. He is a former national security adviser to two previous presidents.

He strongly supported the name deal with Greece, asserting that it would help pave the way for North Macedonias entry into NATO and increase hopes of joining the European Union in talks scheduled to begin in June.

Blerim Reka is a long-shot candidate and former ambassador to the EU. He is backed by two smaller ethnic Albanian parties.

Incumbent Gjorge Ivanov is not eligible to run again after serving two terms.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates with the most ballots will enter a runoff on May 5, where turnout must be at least 40 percent of the 1.8 million-strong electorate for the result to be valid.

Though the office has limited powers, the president has the final signature on legislation and is the leader of the army.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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