Referendum on the fate of the country’s name : Macedonia

Macedonia Referendum

Macedonian referendum results show high support, low turnout

Reflecting a large support in favour of the name change, the country witnessed more than 90% of voters approving the deal. Juxtaposing to this figure, was the low turnout of the eligible voters, accounting to only 34%. The Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had hoped for a stronger show of voters, which would have aided in the next step of winning parliamentary support for consequent constitutional amendments.

Celebrating the low voter-turnout, the opponents were witnessed waving flags and chanting slogans, in the backdrop of calling for a boycott of the referendum. PM Zaev declaring the vote a ‘success’, called for the lawmakers to follow the voice of the public and carry out the required procedural formalities. The pre-requisite for the constitutional amendments is the securement of two-thirds of the 120-seat parliament in the coming week.

The deal with Greece opened doors for Macedonia to NATO and EU membership, but faced large opposition from either sides of the border. The detractors claimed their respective governments to be conceding too much and damaging national interests and identity.

The agreement has before it more obstacles, prior to being finalised. The deal aims to resolve the dispute between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece, which argues that its new northern neighbour’s name implied territorial ambitions over its province, with the same name. Hence, the deal demands Macedonia to change its name to ‘Northern Macedonia’.

Clearly stating, the government is not bound by the referendum, which is said to be only consultative in nature. For the referendum to be binding on the government, the constitution requires a minimum turnout of 50% of eligible voters.

Almost 1.8 million voters are expected to turn-out and decide the fate of the country’s future name. The former Yugoslav Macedonia, that emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia, was named so to instil a sense of national pride. The declaration of independence by its six republics, in 1990, resulted in the southernmost republic calling itself the ‘Republic of Macedonia’. This initiated the period of a decade-long dispute. The proposal finds its roots in the ‘Prespes Agreement’, with the two nations, Greece and Macedonia, working their way towards normalising relations.

Greece has offered to lift its standing veto on the country’s membership in the European Union and NATO, in exchange of adding the qualifier ‘Northern’ to the country’s name.

Hence, the question put forth to the voters is, “Are you in favour of NATO and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?”

Polls will be declared open at 7am (05:00 GMT) and called closed at 7pm (17:00 GMT).

In case the poll turns out in favour of the motion, it will result in the addition of the then “Northern Macedonia” in NATO, as its 30th member. Consequently, amendments to the constitution will be made, following which it will require ratification in the parliament, by two-third majority of the 120 seats.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, has concurred to add “North” to the country’s name, while his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, has assured to drop objections against the entry into NATO. Whereas Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, has urged the voters to abstain from the name referendum, referring to the event as a ‘historical suicide’. He further claimed the referendum to reduce the country down to a subordinate state, dependent on another country.

A survey conducted on August 29th 2018, reflects a 57% of voters in favour of the motion, whereas 38% against the name change. But for the referendum to be constitutionally valid, it necessitates a majority of 50% plus one, from the pool of eligible voters. Either way, the referendum being consultative in nature, is not binding on the government.

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