“More than 90%” of voters approved by referendum on Sunday the agreement with Greece to change the name of Macedonia and the Parliament must “confirm the will of the majority,” said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, following an historic vote that was marked as much by its low turnout as the strength overwhelming result.
It must now be validated by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament – a majority that the government and its allies do not have. It must therefore count on rallying a dozen deputies from the right-wing opposition(VMRO-DPMNE).
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday expressed support for his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.
The result of the referendum has been welcomed in Western capitals while glossing over the extremely low turnout of 36.9 percent.
A poor country in the Balkans that has paid for its isolation with a persistent economic slump, Macedonian aspirations to join the EU and the promises of prosperity that go with that have been hindered by Athens who have insisted that Macedonia change its name to avoid any hint of a territorial claim over the norther Greek province of the same name.
Since its independence from the former Yugoslav Republic in 1991, the Greeks have been incensed by the perceived usurpation of the Greek region’s identity by Macedonia, especially its heritage as the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
Efforts to resolve the dispute began in June when the new Social Democrat Prime Minister Zoran Zaev signed an agreement with his Greek with his counterpart Alexis Tsipras sytating that if Skopje changed the name of the country to the “Republic of North Macedonia” Athens would cease to oppose its accession to NATO and the EU.
According to Radio Free Liberty officials in Zaev’s government have said they have 71 parliamentary deputies ready to approve a constitutional amendment accepting the name change, short of the two-thirds majority, or 80 votes in parliament, needed to amend the constitution.