Referendum fails to hit turnout threshold in Macedonia

Cheryl Sanders
October 2, 2018

Greece has accused its northern neighbor of stealing the historic legacy - and even territory - of its northernmost province, also called Macedonia.

But the agreement has faced vocal opposition on both sides of the border.

A vast majority of voters at the referendum on Sunday supported the deal reached between Athens and Skopje in June.

(EurActiv) - Two days before a crucial referendum that could open the doors of Macedonia to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union membership, an official from Skopje speaking in Brussels on Friday (28 September) made it clear that the authorities will declare the result as legitimate even in case of a low turnout.

The referendum is non-binding, meaning the government could take the outcome as a fair reflection of public opinion regardless of turnout. Under the country's constitution, a binding referendum would need a minimum turnout of 50 percent to be considered valid.

SKOPJE, MACEDONIA-Macedonia's government prepared for a political battle Monday to push through a deal with Greece that would ultimately pave the way for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership, after the agreement won overwhelming support in a referendum but with low voter turnout. It would be a major step for a country that less than two decades ago nearly descended into civil war, when parts of its ethnic Albania minority took up arms against the government, seeking greater rights.

Zaev cast his ballot in the southeastern town of Strumica and called on his fellow citizens to ensure a strong turnout.

Voting on the referendum in Macedonia started, where the residents have to decide whether they support the agreement with Greece.

"I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines", European Union enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.

Greece is flexible regarding the time frame described in the June agreement, he said, adding that the government's main priority is the delivery of constitutional changes agreed under the deal rather than meeting time deadlines.

The dispute is perhaps best illustrated by the hundreds of statues and monuments highlighting the glories of ancient Macedonia, a product of an extraordinarily kitschy building spree in Skopje that was led by then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, before he was arrested and tried on graft and wiretapping charges.

He said he was confident of a strong turnout that would prove Macedonians are in favor of joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and eventually the European Union.

Western officials have said they believe that Russian Federation and Kremlin-connected oligarchs also played an important role in spurring the protests. "I can not give up my Macedonian identity".

Nato's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg said on Twitter it was a "historic opportunity".

"Instead of manipulating he should face the reality and reject this agreement, which is at the expense of the Republic of Macedonia", it said in a statement on Monday.

Supporters, led by Zaev, had characterized Sunday's vote as a linchpin of Macedonia's future prosperity, the key to its ability to join global institutions.

Zaev said that if he failed to obtain the required majority in the parliament to back the name deal, he would call early elections, two years after the previous ones. So far Zaev has pledges of support from 73 - seven short of the required number. A low turnout on Sunday could complicate his task in persuading more lawmakers that the name change deal reflects the will of the people. The name deal will have to be ratified in the Greek Parliament, where Tsipras faces troubles of his own.

The country's main opposition party, which lost power to Mr Zaev previous year, vehemently fought the renaming agreement, and its top leaders declared they would boycott the vote.

Other reports by iNewsToday