Near final Macedonian election returns show conservative Gjorgje Ivanov headed to a runoff vote next month with opposition Social Democrat Ljubomir Frckoski.
With more than 94 percent of Sunday's vote counted, law professor Ivanov was carrying 35 percent of the vote and Frckoski just over 20 percent. A second round of voting is set for April 5.
Monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised the peaceful conduct of Sunday's vote. This contrasted sharply with gunbattles among ethnic Albanians in last year's parliamentary polls.
Macedonians Sunday also voted for local leaders, in polls seen as crucial to the country's NATO and European Union aspirations.
Heavy snow in western Macedonia kept some polling stations closed Sunday, but authorities say less than one percent of the electorate was affected. Voting at those stations is expected take place alongside the April fifth runoff vote.
Last year, fraud and shootouts between rival ethnic Albanian parties marred legislative polls. The violence left one person dead and several others wounded in the worst violence since ethnic unrest in 2001. The scale of the violence prompted the European Union to warn that a repeat of such disorders would endanger Macedonia's chances for early EU membership.