By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - North Macedonia's Social Democrats who pledged to take the Balkan country to the European Union are set to win the parliamentary vote on Wednesday, state election commission parliamentary results showed.
The ruling SDSM party of the most recent prime minister, Zoran Zaev, won 36.9% of the votes, with its main rival, nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, second with 35.9%, according to preliminary results based on 71% of the votes counted.
Ethnic Albanian party, Democratic Union of Integration, which had been in the government with SDSM, was third with 10.2% of the votes.
The vote was originally scheduled for April but postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Voters arrived at the polling stations wearing mandatory masks.
The former Yugoslav republic of 2 million people has so far reported a total of 8,530 infections and 393 deaths due to the coronavirus.
Zaev, in office since 2017, put the country on the path towards EU membership by agreeing to add "North" to its name.
That resolved a decades-old stand-off with Greece, which had viewed the name Macedonia as a claim on its province of the same name, and had blocked its neighbour's entry into both the EU and NATO. The newly renamed North Macedonia joined NATO this year.
The opposition VMRO-DPMNE of Hristijan Mickoski opposed the name change, and also accused Zaev's Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of corruption and cronyism, which it denied.
"I believe ... we have succeeded in ... convincing the people that the coalition led by SDSM is the one that will get most support," Zaev said after voting.
Parliament dissolved in February when Zaev resigned after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations. A month later the EU announced talks could begin. It again set no date, but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.
An SDSM victory could be seen as lending momentum to Skopje's membership talks with the EU.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Peter Graff and Matthew Lewis)