Macedonia's name change vote sees low turnout

Macedonians are deciding whether to yield to Greek demands and change their country's name to North Macedonia

With 85 per cent of votes counted, official turnout was just 36 per cent, and election officials made clear there was no chance the threshold would be cleared.

With ballots from 93% of polling stations counted, 91.3% of votes cast Sunday favoured the deal with Greece to change the name of the Country to North Macedonia, compared to 5.7% opposed, according to the electoral commission's official count. This issue is bigger than anything else, bigger than party interests.

In a press conference after polling closed, Zaev didn't mention the turnout, but said he would seek Parliament's support to amend the constitution and get the bilateral deal ratified.

Opposition VMRO-DPMNE party spokesman Ivo Kotevski criticized the name deal as something that would force Macedonians to give up their national identity. If the amendments fail to receive the two-thirds majority required for passage, Zaev said he would immediately call an early election.

"This is a historic opportunity not only for reconciliation in the region, but also for decisively moving the country forward on its European Union path". Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has accused the USA and the European Union of trying to force western Balkan countries to choose between Russia or the West.

Voting on the referendum in Macedonia started, where the residents have to decide whether they support the agreement with Greece.

The June deal, however, was openly opposed by Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov, who is allied with the nationalist opposition and had supported calls for a boycott of the referendum.

For all of his determination, Prime Minister Zaev will face a challenge in getting the name change, say analysts.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has urged parliament to "confirm the will of the majority" after "more than 90 percent" of referendum voters agreed to change the country's name.

"Many more obstacles to overcome", Bieber added in a message on Twitter.

The referendum was recognized as valid, it is necessary that in it participated not less than 50 percent of the citizens.

An editorial in the same paper said: "It would not be an exaggeration to say that a large part of the Greek political system was relieved by the absenteeism in the referendum. because any failure to ratify the agreement will burden (Macedonia), not Greece".

The ministry said: "The climate of nationalism and suspicion, daily fake news and extreme fanaticism unfortunately do not allow a sober assessment of the great benefits of the agreement".

The European Union's enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, said there was "broad support" for the agreement with Greece. Mattis said there was "no doubt" that Moscow had funded groups inside Macedonia to campaign against the name change.

"Tzanakopoulos also referred to a climate of nationalism and distrust stoked by certain camps on both sides of the border and accused both Greece's main opposition New Democracy of gloating over the supposed political success of those in the neighboring country who insist on the name Macedonia, believe themselves to be descendants of Alexander the Great and protested in Skopje yesterday with slogans 'no to the Greek genocide'".

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation head Jens Stoltenberg hailed the support for Macedonia name change, seeing at as a historic chance to end a decades-long spat with Greece.

Djose Tanevski was among the early voters in Skopje, the capital.

Disputes in the region "must be settled on the basis of mutual consent of all the interested parties, with full respect of the opinion of the population of the relevant countries", he said during a visit last month to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Analysts said Macedonia had been targeted by a wave of disinformation, much of it with ties to Russian Federation, with dozens of new websites offering false information about the content of the deal and the consequences of going along with it.

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