Macedonia’s Leader Vows to Press on With Name Change Despite Referendum Failure

Photo from AP

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev pledged on Sunday to continue with a vote in parliament to change the country’s name to resolve a decades-old dispute with Greece, despite failing to secure the 50 percent turnout at a referendum required to make it valid, Reuters reports.

The official turnout was only around 36 percent, but out of the people who did vote, a large majority overwhelmingly backed the name change: more than 90 percent voted yes with 63 percent of polling stations reporting. The failure to reach the turnout threshold means opponents can now freely vote against the deal.

The nationalist opposition holds 49 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to block the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution.

Zaev declared the result a “success for democracy and for a European Macedonia.” 

 The referendum was neither legally binding, nor was it required under the so-called Prespa agreement with Greece on changing the country’s name.

It merely passed judgment on the agreement with Greece reached in June, under which Macedonia would change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Greece, which has its own province called Macedonia, maintains that its northern neighbor’s name represents a claim on its territory, and it has actively blocked Macedonia from joining NATO or the European Union.

The Greek Foreign Ministry said that it respected the will of the people of the country, which it refers to by the provisional name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Zaev has said that he would seek parliament’s support to amend the constitution and get the bilateral deal ratified. He added that he would immediately call an early election if the amendments fail to get the required two-thirds backing.