Macedonians have voted in favor of changing the name of the Balkan country to North Macedonia in a West-backed referendum, which fell short of the turnout threshold required to become valid immediately.
Preliminary results show 91.3 percent of those who participated in Sunday’s referendum said ‘Yes’ to the name changing, according to the electoral commission’s official count.
With ballots from 93 percent of polling stations counted, only 5.7 percent opposed the plan.
The referendum, however, failed to secure the 50 percent turnout required to make the vote valid, with only 36.5 percent (one third) of eligible voters going to the polls, according to the electoral commission.
“On this referendum, it is clear that the decision has not been made,” said election commission head Oliver Derkoski.
Many in Macedonia are against the new name, saying their country has been unfairly bullied by Greece.
When the results were announced, opponents of the name change, who had boycotted the vote, took to the streets to celebrate the low turnout.
Many Greeks are also angry at the name changing deal, saying it is an insult to Greek history and constitutes a claim on a key province in Alexander the Great’s ancient empire.
The plan is now facing hurdles since it needs to be ratified in parliament by a two-thirds majority and get the Greek parliament’s approval.
Greece and Macedonia have been locked in dispute for almost three decades after the latter declared independence as the Republic of Macedonia following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Athens strongly objected to the use of the name Macedonia, arguing that the name implies territorial aspirations against a northern Greek region with the same name.
The two finally brokered a deal in June, under which Athens committed to dropping its objections to Macedonia joining the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organizing (NATO) in return for a change of name.
Reacting to the outcome of Sunday’s plebiscite, Athens said it “remains committed” to the June agreement.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed his support for his Macedonian counterpart in a telephone call, praising Premier Zoran Zaev for his “determination and courage.”
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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