Low poll turnout puts name change in doubt
Macedonia faces a political crisis following an unexpectedly low turnout by voters in a historic referendum to rename the Balkan state.
Citizens were asked whether they endorsed a deal struck with Greece, rechristening the state North Macedonia as a stepping stone to European Union and Nato membership. But 30 minutes before polling stations closed it appeared that calls to boycott the vote had been effective, with only 34.7%, or 623,000 people, casting a ballot.
Prime minister Zoran Zaev said he would recognise the democratic decision of those who had voted emphasising that the plebiscite was critical for the country’s western orientation, despite failing to secure the 50% turnout required to make the vote valid.
“No better agreement with Greece has been made or could be made and there is no other alternative than our country joining the EU. The referendum is decided by those who wanted to decide,” he told a raucous news conference.
The social democrat leader, rejected the notion that the referendum had been unsuccessful because the outcome fell short of the threshold. With 98.04% of the vote counted, an overwhelming 91.49% voted in favour of the deal. Zaev has staked his political future on placing the country in the western sphere.
Protesters gathered in front of Skopje’s parliament, where a podium had been erected draped in a banner declaring “the people boycotted a genocide. Never North, always Macedonia.”