Low turnout as Macedonia votes on new name

Minnie Murray
October 2, 2018

"But the goal of the referendum is not to test the technical and logistical process how prepared the country is to make the citizens vote, but to test the will of the majority of citizens through a referendum", Osmani said. "It is time for lawmakers to follow the voice of the people and to provide support", he said.

The ballot question asks: "Are you in favor of membership in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?".

Greece would monitor developments in its neighbouring country, but is concerned that the low referendum turnout has made its "yes" outcome not politically binding for the Macedonian opposition, Tzanakopoulos added.

But if the parliament vote delivered a negative result, then he would have to resort to "another democratic tool" to try to save the accord, he added - alluding to snap elections.

Results from more than 97% of polling stations showed 91.3% of voters favoured the name change compared to 5.7% opposed, according to the electoral commission.

The vote was largely boycotted by Macedonia's opposition parties and the country's president.

The powerful opposition party VMRO-DPMNE of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (EPP-affiliated) and anti-Western minded Macedonians are against the agreement and plan to boycott the referendum.

Zaev said at one point he had received numerous reports that Greek businessmen "sympathetic to the Russian cause" had paid rightwing nationalist groups as much as $21,000 (£16,000) to commit acts of violence.

Unlike the Slav population, ethnic Albanians, less concerned about the country's name, voted massively in the referendum.

"Hypothetically, if it is below the threshold, it will not reflect the political will, but the technical and logistic conditions, whether the citizens are present in the Republic of Macedonia in order to exercise their right to vote". "This opportunity must not be wasted", he said. Russian meddling in Macedonian affairs supported them in that approach.

In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement: "The United States strongly supports the agreement's full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity".

When Yugoslavia broke up Macedonia declared its independence and took the name Republic of Macedonia, Greece objected as its northern region is also called Macedonia.

The row began in the Balkan wars that ended in 1913, when Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria partitioned Macedonia.

"If the deal is damaging for Greece, how can it also be damaging for FYROM and for the opposite to apply?" he said. The dispute stretches back almost three decades, with both countries claiming links to Alexander the Great's ancient empire of Macedon, which spanned the territories.

Sunday's vote had seen European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation figures flock to Skopje to urge people to vote.

"The climate of nationalism and suspicion, daily fake news, and extreme fanaticism unfortunately do not allow a sober assessment of the great benefits of the agreement", the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The EU's enlargement chief, Johannes Hahn, followed Zaev in trying to put a positive spin on what happened.

Polls have indicated that a large majority of those who vote are likely to back the change, but achieving the required turnout may be hard. "I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country". "This referendum will change something if it opens the door to Europe and NATO", Olivera Argirovska, a 74-year-old retired nurse, told AFP after casting her ballot in a high school in the capital Skopje.

He said that a "yes" result would be "confirmation of our future".

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