Polling stations open in North Macedonia

Voters began casting ballots in North Macedonia's snap parliamentary elections pitting the pro-European Social Democrats (SDSM) of former PM Zoran Zaev against Hristijan Mickovski's nationalist party VMRO, news wires reported.

Voting actually began on Monday, with officials in full protective gear taking ballot boxes to voters in quarantine for coronavirus. The coronavirus outbreak forced the authorities to postpone the elections originally planned for 12 April.

With the disease resurging, the decision was made to hold the vote on Wednesday and keep polling stations open for two additional hours, until 9 pm (1900 GMT), to reduce crowding and risks.

A country of just under 2.1 million, North Macedonia presently has around 3,500 active Covid-18 cases, with circa 7,000 people in self-isolation.

Zaev had called the snap election in October after the European Union for the second time refused to open membership talks with Skopje since the country changed its name adding the qualifier North, ending a 30-year-long diplomatic row with Greece. Since then, the name change has paved the way for North Macedonia to join NATO and finally begin membership negotiations with the EU, though both occurred in late March and were overshadowed by the pandemic.

The SDSM was ahead of the VMRO in pre-election polls, though forecasts hinted at a close race that could be affected by the turnout, which is expected to be low. Out of the two frontrunners, the winner would still need to forge a coalition with one of the parties representing the large ethnic Albanian community.

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