The result of the referendum in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be disputed by the country’s opposition, especially the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, as participation was significantly lower than 50 percent of the approximately 1.8 million registered voters.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev will emphasize the victory of the “yes” vote by the citizens who chose to go to the polls. Still, as he realized that he would be faced with a large abstention vote, Zaev opted for a different approach in the last days of the election campaign: “Those who will vote will decide whether or not we succeed,” he said, noting that “those who do not vote do not count.” In this light, he argued that “if there is a large majority in favor, then this means that everyone, regardless of their political views, will have to comply with the people’s mandate.”
If the number of citizens who finally did go to the polls had been closer to the 1.2 million who participated in the last parliamentary elections, maybe the prime minister would have been able to support that argument to some extent. Besides, it is common knowledge that more than 300,000 citizens of FYROM have left the country over the last few years, and so there is indeed a serious issue with the extent to which the electoral lists are truly representative of the population. They have not been updated for more than 16 years. The last census was carried out in 2002.
However, given such a great abstention rate, and despite the strong support of the international community, it will be hard for Zaev to persuade any fair-minded observer that the majority of FYROM’s population supports the Prespes agreement. In that context it will prove even more difficult to secure the opposition’s cooperation in the process of revising the constitution.
Hence, it is very likely that he will opt for an early recourse to the polls, where he will again put the same dilemma before the people with respect to the acceptance of the agreement with Greece being a prerequisite for the country’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
If he then achieves a clear victory, he will not only have been re-elected with a fresh mandate to move forward, but will also have more room to maneuver in promoting the “yes” vote in the referendum, despite the low turnout. A victory in the parliamentary elections would give his argument and the result of the referendum the necessary legitimacy.
If this scenario unfolds, the Prespes agreement will not come before the Greek political system until March, when it is likely to trigger developments on the Greek domestic scene.