Low poll turnout puts name change in doubt

The Guardian Weekly - - International News -

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.”

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