Just over 35 per cent of eligible voters in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia took part in what was billed as a “historic” referendum to decide on the nation’s new name of “North Macedonia.”
The abstention rate was high— 65 per cent of eligible voters didn’t vote— because of a boycott effort by those opposed to a name change.
The name change vote was part of the deal that was struck between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his counterpart Zoran Zaev.
The two signed an agreement to end a near-three decade deadlock between the the two nations over the use of the historically-Greek term “Macedonia.”
The multi-faceted agreement had, at its core, the changing of FYROM’s name to “North Macedonia.”
Zaev wants his country to enter the Western family of nations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union and an agreement with Greece was necessary to end the decades-long dispute.
His western push comes as elements of both Russia and Turkey have made headway into establishing influence in the nation– something the West, including the United States, wants to prevent.
Tsipras, as well, wants a Western-oriented northern neighbor and is pushing through the agreement in Greece, despite pressure from elements within his own party and ruling coalition partner, not to mention a large and vocal nationalist population.
Panos Kammenos, Greece’s Defense Minister and the leader of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party and junior partner of the ruling Syriza-ANEL coalition government called the FYROM referendum “invalid” in a Tweet and has repeatedly vowed not to support the Tsipras-Zaev deal when it comes to a vote in Greek parliament.
Όταν μίλησα για αποτυχία του δημοψηφίσματος με λοιδορήσαν τώρα με αυτή τη συμμετοχή βάση του άρθρου 73,74 του Συντάγματος τους είναι άκυρο και το 68% των πολιτών ακύρωσε την συμφωνία. Ο Κυριάκος να απολογηθεί που ήθελε να σταματήσει την ευημερία των Ελλήνων και την κυβέρνηση
— Panos Kammenos (@PanosKammenos) September 30, 2018
According to the terms of the agreement, it must be ratified by the Greek parliament before it can take effect, something that will be difficult for Tsipras to accomplish without the support of his coalition partner.
Western leaders are trying to put a positive spin on the failed vote, which faced a systematic boycott campaign by nationalists in the country who oppose the changing of the country’s name.
European Council President Donald Tusk issued a statement calling on Skopje’s political leaders to seize the “historic opportunity” towards Western orientation and more specifically, European Union membership.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg used similar language, calling on Skopje to “seize this historic opportunity.”
I welcome the yes vote in 🇲🇰 referendum. I urge all political leaders & parties to engage constructively & responsibly to seize this historic opportunity. #NATO’s door is open, but all national procedures have to be completed.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) September 30, 2018
The opposition New Democracy party said Tsipras had put his party’s interests ahead of national interest and said that they “will make every effort to prevent the nationally damaging Prespes Agreement from coming into force.”
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