Battle over the name Macedonia rages after weak vote turnout


The Republic of Macedonia’s leader threatened to call snap elections next month if he fails to win support to change his country’s name after voters backed him in a referendum clouded by low turnout.
The conflicted outcome of plebiscite sets the stage for a bruising battle ahead for Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who’s pushing to settle a 27-year-old row with Greece and open a path towards western integration. It also underscores the intensity of a struggle for sway in the continent’s most volatile region between the European Union and the NATO on one side and on the other Russia, which opposes the further expansion of the military alliance.
More than 90 percent backed an agreement with Greece to change their Balkan state’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, the Electoral Commission said on Monday with almost all the ballots counted. Still, only 37 percent of citizens turned out to vote, casting a cloud over the referendum which was of advisory nature.
“The ‘yes’ vote is bigger than any win of any political party in Macedonia’s newest history,” Zaev told supporters in Skopje, the capital. “Now is the time for lawmakers to follow the vote of the people to quicken processes for EU and NATO integration.”
His ruling coalition lacks the two-thirds majority needed to change the name in a constitutional amendment.
That means he’ll have to win some backing from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which rejects the change after overseeing an escalation in the rift with Greece before it lost power last year. The party rejected the referendum as a failure, with Chairman Hristijan Mickoski saying it had ruined the government’s legitimacy. “I expect VMRO-DPMNE’S lawmakers to respect the democratic will of the majority of citizens who voted,” Zaev said. “Otherwise there’s nothing else left—we’ll have to use the other democratic instrument, which means immediate snap parliamentary elections.”
Athens agreed to the name switch after blocking its neighbour’s accession into the Western clubs, saying it misappropriated the appellation from the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, after which its own northern province is named. The Greek Foreign Ministry urged for “sobriety from all sides” after what it called a “contradictory” referendum result.

Boycott Hurts
Pending the successful conclusion of the deal, the EU has given a conditional date for the start of accession talks in June. Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Vice President Federica Mogherini urged parliament to implement the agreement.
“This is a historic opportunity not only for reconciliation in the region, but also for decisively moving the country forward on its European Union path,” both officials said in a statement.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend