Macedonians vote in election dominated by splits over name change
* Country's new name polarises voters, looms over campaign
* Next president will not have power to veto name change
* Deal with Greece a pre-condition for EU, NATO membership
* Turnout may be low due to disillusion with politics
(Updates with polls opening, quotes)
By Kole Casule
SKOPJE, April 21 (Reuters) - Macedonians vote on Sunday in a
presidential election dominated by deep divisions over a change
of the country's name to North Macedonia under a deal with
The change, which Greece demanded to end what it called an
implied territorial claim on its northern province also called
Macedonia, resolves a decades-old dispute and opens the door to
Macedonian membership of NATO and the European Union.
But the accord continues to divide Macedonians and has
eclipsed all other issues during campaigning for Sunday's
election, in which about 1.8 million voters will choose between
"We have to put an end to this. We need to stop the sale of
our national interest," said Ilija Velkovski, a 67-year old
pensioner, after casting his vote. "Yes, we want EU and NATO,
but not like this."
However, the presidency has no authority to block
constitutional amendments that were passed earlier this year by
a two-thirds majority of parliament to enable the name change.
Reflecting differences over the deal pushed through by the
pro-Western government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the winner
of Sunday's ballot is not expected to secure an outright
majority, meaning a run-off vote would be held on May 5.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and first results are
expected around 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).
"I expect peaceful and democratic elections," said Dimitar
Stankovski, a 42-year old legal adviser in a private firm after
casting his vote.
"I expect that we elect a president that will take us into
Europe where we belong. I know there is a long path ahead, but
we need to start somewhere."
A recent opinion poll gave 28.8 percent support and a narrow
lead to Stevo Pendarovski, who is backed by the ruling centrist
coalition of the Social Democrats and the minority Albanian DUI
party, which have promised to implement the name change deal.
Pendarovski's main rival, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, an
university professor, is supported by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE
party, which strongly opposed the deal. The latest poll showed
her on 26.8 percent.
Blerim Reka, the candidate for the second-largest Albanian
party Besa, looks set to come a distant third with about seven
percent of the vote, the poll showed.
Analysts say turnout could be low due to disillusion among
voters at the government's progress in attracting foreign
investment and tackling high unemployment.
The presidency of the former Yugoslav republic is a mostly
ceremonial post, but acts as the supreme commander of the armed
forces and signs off on parliamentary legislation.
The refusal of outgoing nationalist President Gjeorge Ivanov
to sign some bills passed by parliament has delayed the
implementation of some key laws, including one on wider use of
the Albanian language - 18 years after an ethnic Albanian
uprising that pushed Macedonia to the brink of civil war.
(Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Helen Popper and Mark
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