Macedonians head to polls amid Covid-19 rebound

By Ivan Blazhevski

Skopje, Jul 13 (efe-epa).- North Macedonia opened the voting for general elections on Monday amid a spike in coronavirus infections in the country.

The election was originally due to take place on 12 April but was delayed due to the pandemic.

There are fears that an alarming increase of new cases in the Balkan country could lead to a low turnout for the vote.

A number of measures have been implemented to try and ensure the public’s safety, including extending the hours the polling stations will be open.

Anyone in quarantine can vote on Monday, in addition to those infected and displaying mild symptoms.

Older citizens can vote on Tuesday and the general public will be able to cast their ballots on Wednesday.

The number of Covid-19 infections and deaths had been low in the country during lockdown but there has been a surge in cases since restrictions were eased around a month ago.

Before de-escalation there were less than 2,000 infections but this figure has now exceeded 8,000 with almost 400 deaths.

Health minister Venko Filipce assured the electorate on Monday that the vote is “safe” as long as everyone complies with the health protocols.

Electoral officials and medics visited residential buildings with ballot boxes on Monday morning to allow quarantined voters to exercise their democratic rights.

Campaigning has mostly taken place on television and online with no rallies or live debates between political opponents.

The elections came after the resignation of prime minister Zoran Zaev in October after the European Union refused to start accession talks with North Macedonia.

The country has been run by a caretaker government since February.

There are four coalitions and 11 political parties on the ballots, with the former governing Social Democrats and the center-right opposition VMRO-DPMNE party leading in the polls.Zaev, who was prime minister from 2016 to January this year, is the Social Democrat leader while Hristijan Mickoski is the candidate for VMRO-DPMNE.

Polls suggest that neither of the country’s two main parties will secure the 61-seat minimum out of the country’s 120-member parliament needed to form a majority government.

Around 20 percent of voters have said they will abstain and another 30 percent were undecided, according to the polls.

If no party wins enough votes to secure a majority they may be forced to form a coalition with one of the ethnic Albanian parties, which represent around 25 percent of the population.

The Social Democrats have promised to speed up the EU accession process after the European Council endorsed the opening of negotiations in March.

To do this they are hoping to count on support from NATO countries, of which North Macedonia has been a member since 27 March.

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