Macedonia's name change referendum fails to reach required turnout

Macedonia's name change referendum fails to reach required turnout

It escalated quickly, with Greece imposing a crippling embargo on the new nation.

However, the party that ruled Macedonia for a decade until 2017 was split during the referendum campaign. Some Greeks remain suspicious that Macedonia harbors territorial and historical claims to its own Macedonia province.

The referendum was a chance to ditch the long-winded and inelegant name that Macedonians have been saddled with for the last 27 years - the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM for short.

Russia's keen interest in the vote is hardly surprising.

After Macedonia becomes a candidate for European Union membership in 2005, Greece blocks the start of negotiations, still rejecting its title. Greece's main concern, he said, was the implementation of the constitutional changes rather than meeting deadlines.

In recent years, Macedonian textbooks were rewritten to draw a link between present day Macedonians, who are ethnic Slavs, and the ancient Kingdom of Macedon which was led by Alexander the Great.

Russia's meddling extended to northern Greece, where four diplomats were expelled in July for trying to inflame anti-Macedonian sentiment in Thessaloniki.

US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, said on his way to the capital Skopje last week there was "no doubt" Russian Federation was transferring money and conducting a broader campaign to undermine the name change. Macedonian nationalists began producing maps including Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city. In the event, more than 90% of those voting backed the name change.

For both Greeks and Macedonians, the name is tied to national identity.

Voters were asked whether they backed the deal to change Macedonia's name, which aims to settle a long-running dispute with Athens and pave the way for Skopje's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union membership.

Athens has blocked Macedonia's attempts to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union for 27 years over the country's name.


Macedonia's global partners called for parliamentary support for the deal.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, leader of the "Yes" campaign, said the overwhelming support of voters for the name deal sent a clear sign that he should continue to push for adoption of the agreement in parliament - for which he will need the support of at least some opposition MPs.

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.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov slammed the deal as a "flagrant violation of sovereignty".

Florian Bieber, a professor of Southeast European studies at the University of Graz in Austria, said that while the referendum was an obvious "failure and the result disappointing", a "credible argument" could be made that the deal was supported by a majority since the "yes" vote was so high and voter turnout is usually "well below" 70 percent in Macedonia.

The government, which called the referendum, has described it as non-binding, meaning it could take the result as an accurate reflection of public opinion regardless of the turnout.

Weak turnout could make it harder for Zaev to muster enough support in parliament for constitutional amendments needed to finalize the deal.

If the "Yes" vote wins, the next step is for the government to amend parts of the country's constitution to ensure it doesn't contain anything that could be considered irredentist against Greece.

Thus far, Zaev and his coalition partners from the ethnic Albanian minority have pledges of support from about 70 lawmakers to get the deal ratified. "This today is a defeat not only for the agreement with Greece, but for the crime of those who are in power".

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras faces problems of his own.

The DIK also announced that of those same 98.61 per cent of votes counted, 91.48 per cent of votes were in favour of the deal with Greece, and 5.64 per cent were against.

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