Macedonia’s name change referendum receives major support, but low voter turnout

World Today

Citizens of Macedonia, a small Balkan country, voted in a referendum on Sunday over the country’s name.

CGTN’s Aljosa Milenkovic reports.

It was part of a deal reached in June between the Greek and Macedonian governments attempting to overcome the dispute, which has not only hampered relations, but has affected Macedonia’s future. That included Macedonia’s memberships to NATO and the European Union (EU). Something that the population of this country strongly supports.

But in order for that to happen, the name dispute with Greece has to be resolved. According to the agreement between Macedonia and Greece, Macedonia will have to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, but a referendum on the issue did not go according to plan.

To make the referendum valid, it needed more than 50 percent of voters to cast their ballots. However, it was quickly apparent that things did not develop how the government wanted and expected.

It was a surprise when the first turnout figures began to emerge. By the end of the day, the numbers showed that only about 34 percent of Macedonian voters actually went to go to the polls, while over 91 percent of them supported a name change.

Soon after the first preliminary results came out and the trend was apparently set, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev engaged in damage control, by vowing to continue to fight for the acceptance of the referendum results despite the turnout, and focused on the fact that more than 90 percent of those who voted, supported the name change.

At a press conference that was held just an hour after the polls closed, PM Zaev called on the opposition to support the Prespa deal on the name change, regardless of the fact that, by the letter of the law, referendum had failed.

“I expect lawmakers from the opposition party to respect the democratic decision of the majority among those who voted, otherwise, there is no other way, we’ll need to use the other democratic instrument and that means early parliamentary elections soon,” PM Zaev said.

The low turnout was a major blow to the government, but a resounding success for the opposition. They see the result of this referendum as a major failure for the ruling party, as Hristijan Mickovski, the leader of biggest opposition party the VMRO – DPMNE, said at a press conference at his party’s HQ.

“The government lost its legitimacy. The only thing that is left now for them is to accept the will of the people. This message from the people should be respected by the PM, the government, the parliament, all political parties. The failure of the referendum is the direct responsibility of Zoran Zaev, the government and nobody else,” Mr. Mickovski said.