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Latest update : 2009-04-06

George Ivanov, of the ruling centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party, has won a landslide election victory. He has promised to repair poor ties, with neighbouring Greece, which have hampered Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

REUTERS - Macedonia's ruling party presidential candidate won a landslide victory on Sunday and promised to repair poor ties with neighbouring Greece that have hampered its efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

Gjorge Ivanov, 49, who has never run for office before, garnered a commanding majority of total votes against former Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski of the main opposition SDSM party with well over 90 percent of the votes counted.

Frckovski conceded shortly after midnight.

"Our first task will be to resolve the name issue with our southern neighbour Greece," Ivanov told Reuters. "I am sure we can find common interest and compromise."

"I am sure Greece will be cooperative on the issue."

Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2005 but has not advanced since then and Greece has blocked its NATO application in a 17-year-old dispute over Macedonia's name, which it shares with the northern-most Greek province.

Observers and officials said the day was peaceful with only minor irregularities in a vote closely watched to see whether  the Balkan state is ready to join the EU and NATO.

"Macedonia has shown its ability to conduct free, fair and democratic elections," Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said early on Monday. "This strongly opens up Macedonia's prospectives for EU and NATO integration."

Last vote marred image

Once the poorest Yugoslav republic, Macedonia declared independence in 1992 and was spared the bloodshed that was unleashed between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats.

Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's 2 million people and the two groups still live very separate lives. The country narrowly avoided war between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in 2001, but violence led to one death and injuries in last year's parliamentary voting.

"That sullied the democratic credentials of this country," said Jose Luis Herrero, head of the local branch of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"To go forward with the European Union and NATO intentions, they need those democratic credentials. That's why these elections are so key to the country."

Local and foreign observers reported some cases of voter intimidation and family voting, when a family member dictates how others should vote. In the capital Skopje, some fired guns in celebration on Sunday night. Others lit fireworks or drove around the city honking car horns and displaying flags.

Experts had voiced concern that the turnout might fail to meet a minimum 40 percent threshold, but party officials said the barrier had been passed despite wide voter apathy.

"There is a saying in Macedonian: from two evils, you must choose one," said Metodi Jordanov, 38, a T-shirt maker from the eastern manufacturing town of Stip. "Nothing will change."

Macedonia's prime minister has more power, but the president can influence the direction of foreign policy and can nominate the central banker.

On Sunday night, Ivanov also promised to usher in "a new era of green technology" to boost food and drink exports.

By gaining the presidency and making gains in local mayoral elections, the conservative right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party led by populist Prime Minister Gruevski won a complete grip on political power in the Balkan country.

Date created : 2009-04-06