Different scenarios for the referendum and agreement with Greece

Different scenarios for the referendum and agreement with Greece

Robert Nesimi
Political analyst

The name agreement with Greece, that promises to be Macedonia’s gateway for Euro-Atlantic integrations, still has a few hurdles to clear in the next few months. First it has to face a referendum scheduled for the 30th of September, and afterwards it must be ratified in Parliament together with the constitutional changes it requires. While I am certain that the agreement will ultimately be ratified and step in force, events over the next few months can play out in a number of ways, with various possible outcomes. Most will depend on the results of the referendum itself, which obviously may pass or fail, but even more important is the manner in which it passes or fails. Key determinants will be whether the 50% participation threshold is reached and whether a majority of them declare themselves for or against the agreement. Afterwards everything will be on Parliament’s hands, which will have the final say since the referendum itself is only consultative.

  1. Referendum passes outright. This is obviously the most desired scenario for anyone interested in a quick and easy passage of the agreement. In this scenario a majority of eligible voters would turn out to vote, and a majority of them would then vote for the agreement. Parliament would then proceed to ratify the agreement, along with the necessary constitutional amendments. Furthermore this would clear the way for VMRO itself to vote to ratify it, as it would have a hard time explaining why it would refuse to accept the will of voters. The ratification would pass with the broadest possible consensus, and would hush any opposition in the future.

However this scenario does not seem likely at the moment, seeing that VMRO has still not built an official position on whether it will participate in the referendum. And frankly speaking, it stands no chance to pass without its active participation.

Part of the problem are the inflated voter rolls that put the number of eligible voters to over 1.800.000, at a ridiculous 90% of the whole population. This problem, that has conveniently been ignored by all political parties in the past, now comes back to hit them in the head at the worst possible moment. It means that for the referendum to succeed, over 900.000 people have to turn out and actually vote either way. Knowing that the usual number of people who vote hovers around 1 million, it means that even a modest level of abstention dooms the referendum to failure. It becomes plainly impossible without VMRO, and the outcome will remain doubtful even if it participates actively in the process.

For now thus it is safest to assume that the referendum will fail due to the low participation rate.

  1. Referendum clears the threshold but fails. This is the least likely outcome. In this scenario enough people turn out to vote, but a majority vote against the agreement. However, if the usual number of people vote, a majority would amount to around 550.000 votes, to count on the safe side. But the forces for the agreement can muster this number easily. All Albanian parties, along with an overwhelming majority of Albanians, approve of the agreement, so it would have about 250.000 votes to begin with. It is safe to assume the same for the ethnic minorities. It will then require an additional 250.000 votes from ethnic Macedonians, or a third of those who usually vote. This is very much doable even if every single VMRO voter votes against the agreement.
    It is thus safe to assume that if the referendum clears the participation threshold, a majority will vote for the agreement and it will have succeeded, and we would be back to the first scenario.
  2. Referendum fails only because it doesn’t clear the participation threshold. Bar some wildly optimistic and dubious polls, at present this remains the most likely scenario. In this case a large number of people turn out to vote, but not enough to reach the needed 50%. However a substantial majority of them vote for the agreement.

Since the referendum is not legally binding, Parliament may choose to ratify the agreement anyway. A strong majority for the agreement, even without the threshold participation met, will constitute a sound basis to argue that those who cared enough about the agreement to actually vote, approved of it. Of course the challenge will then be to find the necessary 81 votes for constitutional amendments, meaning that about 10 or more MPs from VMRO’s coalition have to be convinced to vote in favor. The ruling coalition will have to pull all kinds of strings to bring this vote together, and it will no doubt suffer political repercussions, but this is still doable.

  1. Referendum fails and Parliament fails to ratify the agreement. In essence this would mean that Macedonia has decided to reject the agreement with Greece and forfeited its future in NATO and EU. This would be the most disastrous turn the country could take for a long time and would shake it to its very foundation, since a large number of people, including all Albanians, will not readily accept a future with heavily shut doors to the West and looking toward the East. Precisely because such an outcome is so dangerous for the future of the country, I believe that this scenario is not likely and that Parliament will ratify the agreement no matter the outcome of the referendum.

Of course SDSM and Prime Minister Zaev will pay a heavy political price in this version of events, but then these are exactly the types of situations that separate statesmen from mere politicians, which is precisely what they promised they would be.


Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik