FYROM: The crucial referendum on the settlement of the name issue

FYROM: The crucial referendum on the settlement of the name issue

Zoran Zaev has voiced his intention to step down as prime minister of fYROMacedonia if the majority votes against the agreement for the settlement of the name issue, in the upcoming referendum.

However, the country’s prime minister, in an interview with a television channel in Skopje, appeared certain that the overwhelming majority of those who will vote in the referendum will be in favor of the Agreement, which, he argued, is crucial to the country’s future.

This referendum will be held on 30 September and the question will be worded as follows: “Are you in favour of joining NATO and the EU by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?”.

If the percentage of participation in the referendum does not exceed 50%, then it will be considered that “the citizens did not decide on the agreement”. In this case, as Zoran Zaev said, the agreement will be referred to the competent institutions (Parliament) so that they can decide on the agreement, provided of course that yes will prevail in the referendum.

The percentage of participation is the big headache for Zoran Zaev’s government, as it seeks to overcome 50%, so that the legitimacy of the outcome in the referendum will not be denied by anyone and the agreement will be more widely accepted.

However, some parameters work negatively to ensure a participation rate of over 50% and, above all, the large number of the electorate, in relation to the country’s population. In particular, the population of fYROMacedonia is 2.1 million inhabitants, with those eligible to vote reaching 1.8 million. This mismatch is due to the fact that the electoral lists have not been updated for years, a problem that occurs in all the country’s electoral battles.

A second reason is that, according to World Bank figures, at least 300,000 residents have migrated over the last ten years, looking for a better future. Polls for the referendum will be set up at the diplomatic and consular authorities of fYROMacedonia, so that foreign residents and the country’s diaspora has a chance to vote. However, experience from previous election matches has shown that the electorate living abroad does not actively participate in the country’s elections.

A third problem is that the largest opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, which opposes the Prespes Agreement, does not make it clear whether it will invite its voters to come to the polls. Indeed, within the party, which, after the loss of power and the resignation of Nikola Gruevski from its leadership has entered a profound introversion, there are different views on the position it needs to keep with regard to the referendum: the party’s nationalist wing is set in favour of abstention, while the reformists believe the party should call its supporters to vote in the referendum. For his part, the new VMRO-DPMNE leader, Hristiajn Mickoski, seems to strive to balance between these two opposing currents and fails to shape a clear “line” for the main opposition party to follow on the crucial issue of the referendum.

Zoran Zaev’s government, in view of the difficulties in securing a 50% precenate in the referendum, has decided that it has a consultative rather than binding character, triggering the opposition’s reactions.

It is certain that the overwhelming majority of those who go to the polls will be in favour of the agreement, while Zaev wants to have as much participation as possible. In this effort, he will have the strong support of the international agent, who has welcomed and advocated the Prespes agreement, calling it “historic”. Indeed, in the next period, and especially during the election campaign that starts on September 10, Skopje is expected to be visited by foreign leaders and officials of international organizations to support the referendum and to point out that the implementation of the agreement means implementing the strategic objectives of fYROMacedonia, such as joining NATO and starting accession negotiations with the EU”.

Zoran Zaev seems to be “betting” in particular to this support of the international factor, hoping that it will make a decisive contribution in order for as many voters as possible to understand the “historicity” of the moment and to promote the country’s interest, ignoring any nationalist perceptions and the pseudo-patriotism, which kept the country captive and stuck all these past years.

The estimates of political analysts in Skopje contacted by IBNA are that it is now doubtful whether the percentage of participation in the referendum exceeds 50%. However, as noted, the majority of those who will go to the polls will undoubtedly vote in favour of the agreement with Greece to resolve the naming issue, which will allow Zoran Zaev to refer the deal to the House, in order to take the final decision, in the occasion that less than half of the electorate goes to the polls./IBNA