Over 90% Back Macedonia’s Name Change to ‘North Macedonia’ But Low Turnout Mars Referendum
Only about a third of the eligible voters have chose to partake in Macedonia’s name change referendum which was boycotted by the nationalist opposition.
An overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia who took part in a name change referendum on Sunday have voted in favor in remaining it to “North Macedonia” but the vote has failed to reach the required turnout threshold.
The people of the former Yugoslav republic were called to a referendum to decide on whether to change their country’s name in order to resolve a decades-old name dispute with neighboring Greece, which would pave Macedonia’s way to joining NATO and the European Union.
The Macedonian name dispute has been going on since the early 1990s, when the Republic of Macedonia proclaimed its independence from under the rubble of the former Yugoslavia.
EU member state Greece, however, has been objecting to its northwestern neighbor calling itself “Macedonia”. The term also refers to an administrative region in Northern Greece, and Athens worries the conflicting uses could encourage irredentist claims.
Because of Greece’s objections, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under the name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), and its bids to join NATO and the EU have been blocked.
In June 2018, Macedonia’s Socialist Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras announced they had reached a compromise solution with the name “Republic of North Macedonia”.
Zaev called a referendum on September 29, 2018, to ask the people of Macedonia to decide on whether they approve it.
Paradoxically, the referendum question was worded so that it did not even mention the name change to “North Macedonia”, asking,
“Are you in favor of European Union and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?”
Initial results from Sunday’s name change referendum in Macedonia showed that at least 90% of those who cast their votes were in favor of renaming their country.
Yet, only about one third of all eligible voters participated in the referendum, Macedonia’s electoral authorities announced at the end of the voting day.
Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov and his rightist VMRO-DPMNE party, which was in power for a decade before Zaev’s Cabinet took over, had called for a boycott to the referendum.
“If, as we all expect, we truly have a big visible, tangible majority for [voting in favor], out of those who voted, then the future is clear. The vote of the MPs in Parliament must resolutely be a vote for a responsible acceleration of the processes towards NATO and the European Union,” Zaev stated on Sunday night, as cited by local news site Vecer.
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, on the other hand, argued that the name change agreement with Greece “will humiliate Macedonia”, while President Gjorge Ivanov described it as “historical suicide”.
With the name referendum failing to reach the required threshold, the ultimate decision goes to the Macedonian Parliament where Zaev’s Socialists hold a narrow majority with the backing of ethnic Albanian formations.
The nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, however, has 49 MPs in the 120-seat Macedonian Parliament, enough to block a change of the country’s Constitution (such altering the republic’s name) which requires a majority of two-thirds.
(Banner image: Zoran Zaev on Twitter)