Macedonia’s president elect pledged on Monday to work with neighboring Greece to solve a festering dispute over Macedonia’s name that has blocked its bid to join NATO.
Governing conservative candidate Gjorgje Ivanov won a landslide victory in Sunday’s run-off, which had a turnout just above the legal minimum of 40 per cent.
With 96 per cent of the ballots counted, Ivanov led with 63.4 per cent and Social Democrat challenger Ljubomir Frckoski who has conceded the race had 36.6 per cent.
During his campaign for the largely ceremonial post, Ivanov strongly opposed a compromise in the name dispute and the election was seen as a referendum on the issue.
Greece fears Macedonia could lay claim to its own province of the same name.
The dispute, which emerged with Macedonia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, led NATO member Greece to block Macedonia’s bid to join the alliance last year.
Early on Monday, Ivanov said he wanted to work with Athens during his five year term.
“More than 400,000 people gave me their votes to take responsibility for European Macedonia and to work on solving the problem over the name with our neighbor,” the 49 year old Ivanov said.
“I hope we will have an energy to overcome this challenges. When we are united domestically, we can resolve the difficulties abroad. Long live Macedonia.”
Greece recognizes its neighbor by the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as it is officially known at the United Nations and other international bodies. But more than 100 countries including the U S have recognized the tiny Balkan state as Macedonia.
Ivanov’s victory is a huge boost for conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski whose hard line on the dispute with Greece has drawn some international criticism.
Macedonia is suffering severe economic problems, with unemployment around 35 per cent.
European Union officials said the run off election was “generally calm,” but cited reports by observers of limited irregularities.
Past elections in Macedonia have been marred by violence and irregularities, particularly in areas inhabited by an ethnic Albanian minority that makes up a quarter of the country’s population of 2.1 million.
Ivanov is expected to take office on May 12.