A referendum on changing Macedonia’s name won overwhelming support on Sunday September 30th. However, low voter turnout highlighted the hurdles that still remain for the Balkan country to join the EU and Nato. As reported by AP, results from more than 97% of polling stations showed 91.3% of voters approving the deal. But turnout stood just 36.8%, a far cry from the massive support the government had hoped for.
Opponents to the name change had called for a boycott of the vote and celebrated in the street outside Parliament when turnout figures were announced, chanting slogans and waving flags.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev declared the vote a success, saying, “The people made a great choice and said ‘yes’ to our future. It is time for lawmakers to follow the voice of the people and to provide support. There will be no better agreement with Greece, nor an alternative for Nato and the European Union.” Zaev said he would seek to secure the required two-thirds majority of the 120-seat parliament by next week for the constitutional changes. If he fails, he said the only alternative would be to call early elections.
In Athens, the Greek foreign ministry noted the "contradictory" result of the referendum and said careful moves were needed to “preserve the positive potential of the deal.” Supporters, led by Zaev, had characterised Sunday's vote as a linchpin of Macedonia's future prosperity and the key to its ability to join international institutions. However, the Macedonian government called the referendum consultative and non-binding, meaning it could interpret the outcome as a fair reflection of public opinion regardless of how many people voted.