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The Latest: Runoff vote inevitable in North Macedonia

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, a presidential candidate for the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, talks to the media outside a polling station, after voting in the presidential elections, in Skopje, North Macedonia, Sunday, April 21, 2019. North Macedonia holds the first round of presidential elections on Sunday, seen as key test of the government following deep polarization after the country changed its name to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece over the use of the term "Macedonia". (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The Latest on the presidential election in North Macedonia (all times local):

9:55 p.m.

Returns from North Macedonia’s presidential election are giving an indication of which of the three candidates will compete in a runoff early next month.

The May 5 runoff is inevitable because the small European country’s election law requires a candidate to get 50% plus one of registered voters, not just voters who cast ballots for president, to be elected in the first round. The state electoral commission reported the turnout Sunday was 39.26%.

With about half of polling stations reporting, Stevo Pendarovski and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova were in a close contest for the most support. Pendarovski, the joint candidate of the ruling Social Democrats and 30 other parties, held a slight lead, with 42.4% of the partial vote to Siljanovska’s 41.1%.

The main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party backed Siljanovska, the first woman to run for president in the country. .

Blerim Reka, a candidate supported by two small ethnic Albanian political parties, had 12.3% of the early returns.

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8:15 a.m.

Polls opened early Sunday in North Macedonia for a presidential election seen as a key test for the government following the country’s changing its name to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece over the use of the term “Macedonia”.

More than 3,400 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and will close at 7 p.m. (1700GMT).

Three university professors are vying for the largely ceremonial presidency post.

Gordana Siljanovska Davkova is backed by the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, Stevo Pendarovski is a joint candidate of the ruling Social Democrats and 30 smaller parties, while Blerim Reka is supported by two small ethnic Albanian parties.

A candidate needs 50% plus one vote of the 1.8 million registered voters to win outright in the first round.

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