Ethnic Albanians boycott Macedonia vote


SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Ethnic Albanian voters largely boycotted Macedonia's presidential election Sunday, its fifth since the Balkan country gained independence following the breakup of former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up one quarter of the country's population, refrained from taking part in the western and northern parts of the country, where they are the majority. The ethnic Albanian Democratic for Integrations party, a junior partner in the government, recommended that their voters stay home after the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party refused to their demands for a joint candidate.

The election for the largely ceremonial post is seen as a barometer of the fortunes of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party ahead of general elections later this month. All the major parties have based their campaigns around having Macedonia join Western organizations like the European Union and NATO —but differ on how those goals can be achieved.

Current President Gjorge Ivanov, 53, is seeking a second 5-year term. His main opponent, 51-year-old Stevo Pendarovski, is backed by the main opposition Social-Democrats.

Nearly 1.8 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots at some 3,500 polling stations. Voting started at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and closed at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT).

No major incidents were reported.

Four candidates were running for the largely ceremonial post. A runoff will take place on April 27 among the top two finishers if no candidate wins a majority.

Results are expected no sooner than early Monday.