As a referendum on changing the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia attracted a low turnout on Sunday night, the prospects for the so-called Prespes deal between Athens and Skopje, and for the FYROM government, appeared unclear.
According to FYROM’s state election commission, voter turnout reached 36.87 percent with 91.percent in favor of the deal.
In comments to reporters, FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev put on a brave face regarding the result, declaring that despite a “boycott” of the vote by protesters, he expected that the majority voted “yes” and that the result should be reflected in Parliament.
“Decisions are taken by those who vote. The vote is final and the decision of citizens cannot be ignored,” he said, adding that snap elections would be called if MPs fail to back the deal.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its commitment to the deal and said it “respected” the choices of the FYROM people.
The question posed to voters at the ballot box was: “Are you in favor of membership in NATO and the European Union by accepting the deal between [the] Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?”
FYROM’s constitution requires a minimum turnout of 50 percent of eligible voters for the referendum result to be considered valid.
However, officials of Zaev’s government have described the referendum as a consultative, not binding, move. In any case, a very low turnout will make it harder for him to persuade MPs to vote on constitutional changes that are required for the deal with Greece to become final.
The deal, signed in June in Greece’s Prespes lake district, foresees the Balkan country changing its name to North Macedonia in order for Greece to lift its objections to its accession to NATO and the EU. Greece has long vetoed the country’s accession over fears that it would encourage irredentism.
The deal struck between the two sides foresees FYROM changing its constitution to make it clear that it has no irredentist claims against Greece.
But, although officials in both Athens and Skopje hailed the deal, as did Western powers, it stoked protests on both sides of the border. The main opposition parties in both countries oppose the agreement.
In Greece, there were also objections by Panos Kammenos, the leader of the junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), who has pledged to quit the government if the deal comes to Parliament.
On Twitter, Kammenos described the referendum result as “invalid” due to low turnout.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said objections to the deal proved to be “false” and “erroneous.”
Earlier, the spokeswoman for New Democracy, Maria Spyraki, called on ANEL to provoke snap elections by quitting the coalition over the deal.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said developments relating to the name deal would not affect the government.