Macedonia's PM Zoran Zaev will face a crucial battle in parliament
The non-binding name referendum fails to reach turnout thresholdEuropost
The non-binding referendum in Macedonia, held on Sunday, was marred by low turnout and the end a decades-long spat with Greece on the name seems to move away. With ballots from 93% of polling stations counted, 91.3% of votes favoured the name changing to North Macedonia, compared to 5.7% opposed, according to the electoral commission's official count. Only a third of the 1.8 million-strong electorate voted.
Greece reacted to the result with the foreign ministry saying it "remains committed" to its June agreement with Skopje under which Athens would drop its objections to Macedonia joining the EU and NATO in return for a change of name. Greek PM Alexis Tsipras expressed his support for his Macedonian counterpart in a telephone call in which he hailed the "determination and courage" of PM Zoran Zaev to "complete the implementation of this agreement", a government source told AFP. The name deal needs to be ratified in Macedonia's parliament by a two-thirds majority and also given the stamp of approval by the Greek parliament. Zaev and his coalition partners from the ethnic Albanian minority will need at least a dozen MPs from the opposition to back the move. Zaev said that if he failed to obtain the required majority in parliament to back the name deal, he would call early elections, two years after the last ones.
According the rightwing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party the low turnout made the referendum "deeply unsuccessful" and party leader Hristijan Mickoski told reporters the "government lost its legitimacy".
The EU urged all sides to respect the result of the referendum. "I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines," EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that he views the referendum as a vote for "Yes," despite the low turnout and urged Macedonia to move quickly towards membership in the security alliance.