Macedonia parliament to vote on name change

Pro-change politicians fall short of an absolute majority in the parliament, casting doubt on the deal’s future.

Macedonian PM Zaev addresses the people during a march in support of a referendum in Skpoje
Macedonian nationalists say changing the country's name is against the 'will of the people' [Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters]

Macedonia’s parliament is set to vote on an agreement that would change the country’s name to North Macedonia and end a decades-long dispute with its southern neighbour, Greece.

The name change would pave Macedonia’s way into international organisations like NATO and the European Union (EU), which Greece has vetoed so far.

Greece, worried over Skopje’s territorial ambitions, had objected to the name “Macedonia” because it has a historically important northern province of the same name. The two countries also have a dispute over the region’s cultural heritage.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic Union, leader of a coalition that holds 72 of the parliament’s 120 seats, supports the change and Macedonia’s ascension to NATO and the EU.

However, they are eight seats short of the 80 votes needed to change the country’s name. Zaev hopes opposition legislators will back the vote.

“Legislators, let us say ‘Yes’ to the opportunity that is before us. History remembers the right decisions,” Zaev wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

If parliament passes the first government motion, it will open the name change procedure, allowing legislators to debate the issue over a period of three months or more, according to the parliament’s rulebook.

The referendum was met with widespread protests [Marko Djurica/Reuters]
The referendum was met with widespread protests [Marko Djurica/Reuters]

A second vote requires a simple majority of 61 votes, but a final vote would need a two-thirds majority.

If the vote fails, Zaev has said the only remaining option would be early elections, likely by late November or early December.

VMRO-DPMNE, the centre-right nationalist opposition party, has rallied against any change in the name.

“The agreement for changing the country’s name is legally and politically dead. The empty debate in parliament is not productive and breaches the will of the people,” the party said, according to Balkan Insight.

Macedonia held a national referendum on the name change on September 30.

While 91.4 percent of those who voted supported the change, only 36.9 percent of eligible voters turned out, leaving the decision to the Macedonian parliament.  

The low turnout followed a VMRO-DPMNE-led campaign to boycott the referendum.

An informal deadline to implement the deal is set for March 2019, which would allow the Greek parliament enough time to implement it before the Greek general elections, which could see forces opposed to the deal taking power. 

Source: Al Jazeera