As citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) decide in Sunday’s referendum whether to change the country’s name to North Macedonia, proponents of the “yes” camp are concerned over the possibility of low voter turnout.
The referendum seeks to ratify the name deal – the Prespes agreement – signed in June between Athens and Skopje, which will allow Greece to lift its objections to the country’s bid to join NATO and the European Union.
The question put to voters is: “Are you in favor of NATO and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?”
According to registers, 1,806,336 people are eligible to vote.
The government of Zoran Zaev has campaigned fiercely to get the deal approved and has urged citizens to vote as the referendum’s result will not be considered valid or credible if turnout is below 50 percent.
The main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party has repeatedly denounced the deal, but has said nonetheless that it will respect a “yes” vote if turnout figures are more than 50 percent.
The concern is further compounded by the mass migration of recent years, which has depleted many villages in the Balkan country. On Thursday, FYROM President Gjorge Ivanov told the UN General Assembly that by being asked to ratify the deal, his countrymen were effectively being asked to commit a “historical suicide.”
He urged citizens to boycott the vote, describing the referendum as a “noose” and said that the proposed name change is “a flagrant violation of sovereignty.”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the UN General Assembly on Friday evening that the agreement was not reached due to the imposition of the interests of a stronger party on a weaker one. “It was mutually acceptable, defending the dignity of both sides,” he said.
FYROM’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani, who met on Friday with EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, said that “citizens understand the importance of this moment” and the country is poised “to make history.”
In response to Ivanov’s comments, Hahn told reporters a “boycott is not an expression of democratic majority.”
Ballot boxes in 80 municipalities will open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m. The vote will be monitored by some 2,500 local and 500 international observers.