SKOPJE -- Stevo Pendarovski, backed by North Macedonia's ruling party, has won a presidential runoff vote amid promises to push the Balkan state toward NATO and European Union membership, according to preliminary final results.
With 100 percent of the votes counted in the May 5 election, Pendarovski had 51.7 percent to 44.7 percent for his challenger, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, the candidate favored by the main conservative opposition party, according to election authorities.
Just as important, the State Election Commission said that turnout was 46.6 percent, erasing fears that the 40 percent participation threshold needed to make the balloting official would not be met.
The commission said that voting went without any major incidents.
However, the main conservative opposition VMRO DPMNE party, which backed Siljanovska-Davkova, accused the government of "electoral engineering" and said it had spotted "many irregularities."
Violence, dirty tricks, and sharp nationalist rhetoric have marked previous elections.
The race between Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova was dominated by debate on issues such as integration into Western structures and a struggling economy, plagued by stubbornly high unemployment at more than 20 percent.
Pendarovski, a 55-year-old former political-science professor, has strongly supported the so-called Prespa deal signed with Greece last year to change the country's name.
Siljanovska-Davkova, the country's first female candidate and a university professor, has been critical of it, though the opposition has said it would not cancel the accord. She is also a strong proponent of EU and NATO integration.
The signing of the historic agreement with Greece changed the country's name to North Macedonia and ended a decades-long dispute that had blocked the Balkan state's path to NATO and the EU.
"The outcome of the elections means a guaranteed way forward for all of us, the EU, NATO, in the economically advanced world, where we belong," Pendarovski said from the Social Democrats' headquarters in Skopje.
While the president has a largely ceremonial role, the position does have some powers to veto legislation and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) had warned the outcome of the runoff could trigger early parliamentary elections.
"We've had a successful election, we've chosen the president in clean and fair elections and we are continuing responsibly ahead," Zaev said in congratulating Pendarovski.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, also congratulated Pendarovski on his election victory.
"We will continue to support your country's path towards EU membership!" Kurz tweeted.
Hahn said that North Macedonia "can count on the EU's continued support for its accession perspective."
Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova battled to a virtual draw -- 42.8 percent to 42.2 percent, respectively -- in the first round on April 21.
That close outcome put a spotlight on the Balkan state's ethnic Albanian minority, which strongly supported Blerim Reka in the first round to give him 10.6 percent of the vote.
With Reka out of the runoff race, many feared his supporters would boycott the runoff, which could have kept turnout below 40 percent. About one quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian, and overall turnout in the first round was just 41.8 percent.
Siljanovska-Davkova, 63, ran in the first round as an independent candidate but was backed by the VMRO-DPMNE in the runoff.
Voter apathy has been fueled by a lack of jobs, which has forced many Macedonians to move abroad to find work.
One of the poorest countries in Europe with an average monthly salary of about $470, many voters say they're fed up with politicians on both sides of the legislature and voting for a president won't change their situation.