Macedonia’s referendum on changing its name to North Macedonia has failed to reach the required turnout.
Preliminary results show that just over a third of Macedonians voted in the referendum, with 50% needed.
However, with 90% of those who took part in favor of the change, Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has urged parliament to “confirm the will of the majority”.
The vote aimed to end a long-running dispute with neighboring Greece, which has its own region called Macedonia.
Greece had agreed to end its objections to Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership bids if the change was passed.
Over 85% of votes have been counted so far, but a campaign by some nationalists – including the country’s president – to boycott September 30 referendum seems to have had an impact, with just 36% of eligible voters taking part.
PM Zoran Zaev threatened to call early elections if parliament did not support the proposal, made non-binding by the poor turnout.
He said after polls closed on September 30: “If, as we all expect, we truly have a big visible, tangible majority for [voting in favor], out of those who voted, then the future is clear.
“The vote of the lawmakers in parliament must resolutely be a vote for a responsible acceleration of the processes towards NATO and the European Union.”
Macedonia declared independence during the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece objected to its new neighbor’s name.
The dispute harks back to ancient history, because both present-day Macedonia and northern Greece were part of a Roman province called Macedonia. And both claim the heritage of Alexander the Great two centuries earlier.
Athens’ objections forced the UN to refer to the new country as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
Greece also vetoed Macedonia’s attempt to join NATO in 2008 – and blocked its EU membership ambitions.
Since 1991, many suggestions have been proposed, then rejected. However, last year’s change of government in Macedonia finally brought the start of serious negotiations.
If the name will be changed, Greece will end its veto on Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU.