Oct. 1 (UPI) — Macedonians overwhelmingly voted in favor of changing the country’s name Sunday in a referendum that was plagued by low voter turnout.
More than 90 percent of voters voted in support of a deal with Greece to change the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, with the promise that Greece would lift its veto on Macedonia’s entry into the European Union.
Results showed voters favored Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s plan to settle the cultural dispute between the two countries over the name “Macedonia,” which extends back as far as when Macedonia declared independence after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, but Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and some nationalist groups opposed the deal.
Only 34.7 percent of Macedonians — or 623,000 people — participated in the vote amid protests and organized boycotts, short of the 50 percent required for the vote to be valid.
Hristijan Mickoski, leader of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE Party called on Macedonians to “listen to their hearts” at the polls and argued the low voter turnout indicated the will of the people.
“The fact is that the name agreement did not get a green light, but a stop sign from the people,” he said.
Zaev pledged to honor the results of the vote, despite the boycotts and the low turnout.
“No better agreement with Greece has been made or could be made and there is no other alternative than our country joining the EU,” he said. “More than 90 percent of those who went out to vote voted for that.”
He added that if the deal wasn’t ratified by parliament, he would call for early parliamentary elections.