As the hours ticked by after voting ended in Macedonia’s referendum on its “name deal” with Greece, it appeared that about nine of 10 of those who voted had backed the deal – but turnout was well below the threshold to make the result valid.
The question in the referendum was: “Are you in favour of the country’s accession to the Nato and EU by accepting the agreement signed between Macedonia and Greece?”
The referendum was a sequel to the Prespa agreement between the Republic of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras to end a decades-long bilateral dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia” by re-naming the former Yugoslav republic “Republic of North Macedonia”.
To be valid, turnout of 50 per cent of those eligible to vote was needed. But initial data was that by the final half an hour before polls closed, only about 34 per cent had voted.
With ballot papers from about half of the polling stations counted, by late evening it appeared that the vote in favour was about 90 per cent. The rival sides both claimed vindication – the “Yes” camp for the large majority, while those who had advocated a boycott saw the below-threshold turnout as a rejection of the Prespa deal.
The referendum had a consultative nature. For the name change to proceed, Parliament in Skopje would have to approve constitutional amendments.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev described the referendum as successful, although turnout was not satisfactory. He said that he respected the will of the people and the issue would go to Parliament.
The Independent Balkan News Agency reported Zaev as saying that if the MPs for VMRO-DPMNE, which opposed the deal, did not back up the name deal in Parliament, he would take the country to early elections. Without the opposition, Zaev cannot muster the two-thirds majority in the legislature required to approve the changes.
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said that the referendum was a failure, proof that the country’s citizens had rejected the name deal. Zaev’s government had lost its legitimacy, IBNA reported him as saying.
Soon after polls closed at 7pm Skopje time, a crowd of about 1000 of those who had opposed the deal turned out to celebrate in the centre of the capital city.