The referendum should not allow any “missteps”

Before the 2011 election, Branko Crvenkovski decided to get rid of Nikola Gruevski’s allegations that “if SDSM came to power, it would change the country’s name.” In order to not abuse this issue in the election campaign, for the first time in the electoral program of SDSM, the party made the promise: “According to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, involving issues of highest state and national interest, the future SDSM government will actively build consensus of all relevant stakeholders in the state. The government will really engage in overcoming the dispute imposed by Greece, but will not accept any negotiation on identity issues. For the possible solutions we remain on the determination for a referendum declaration of the citizens”.
With that change in the program, the two parties received almost identical formulations regarding the settlement of the imposed name dispute.

In the process of reaching an agreement with Greece on disputed issues, the current government, however, has gone the furthest. It engaged and reached an agreement on a solution to the imposed dispute by Greece, it did not accept a discussion on identity issues, and defended the name of the country, the name of the language, and now remains the promise “to give citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on the possible solutions in a referendum.”

Unlike many countries in the world, where even participation in elections is a duty that if not fulfilled is sanctioned, participation in elections and referendum in our country is only a right that can, but is not obligatory to be used. So if one of the major parties does not like it, for example, the referendum issue, or unfoundedly begins to accuse that there are no conditions for fair voting, that is, there is a danger that the referendum may be forged, it may call for a boycott of the referendum, or due to insufficient turnout (50% of the voters registered in the Voter List plus one), to declare the referendum unsuccessful, that is, in this case, that citizens did not approve the signed agreement with Greece, and hence it becomes invalid.

This already happened in Macedonia in 2004, when VMRO-DPMNE, as an opposition party, asked the citizens to refer to a referendum whether they accepted the new territorial distinction of the municipalities. The same thing happened in the referendum to protect GTC from “dressing it” in baroque. In the case of the Municipality of Centar, although over 40 thousand voters registered in the municipality of Centar in the referendum, over 19 thousand turned out, while 17,500 citizens or 70% of those who were reluctantly voting in any municipal government elections voted for protection of the GTC, it did not annul the already made decision of Gruevski’s government to dress GTC in baroque.
The difficulty in reaching the high censuses for a successful referendum arises not only from the fact that more than 300,000 Macedonian citizens who have long been evicted from the country have been entered in the voters’ list, of which very small percentage (about 3%) participate in the elections and this kind of referendums, but also that Macedonia has not conducted a population census in over 20 years, and it is not known how many voters are currently in the country.
This fact became clear after the first direct election for the electing the president of the state, and therefore, with the consensus in the Assembly, the Law on the election of the president of Macedonia was amended, and a provision was made that he could be elected if he secured 40% plus one of the enrolled in the voter list in the first round. That meant lowering the census for a successful presidential election by 180,000 voters.  This was how Ivanov was elected.

Why is this important to know?

The current Law on Referendum, if not amended in the direction of reducing the required census, could lead to, for example, the question: “Do you support the agreement with Greece, which gives Macedonia membership in the EU and NATO?” – 900 thousands of citizens voting “in favor”, but not meaning that the agreement is accepted in a referendum.

Those 200 to 250 thousand citizens, who for various reasons would not vote in a referendum, and who usually go to parliamentary elections, can, through boycott, deny the absolute political will of the majority of citizens in Macedonia, and claim that the government must declare the agreement with Greece invalid.
And it has nothing to do with democracy. It is only evidence that any political minority with such a referendum can deny the will of the great majority and dictate relevant political decisions of grand significance for the country’s future from a minority position.

Hence, the seriousness of the decision that needs to be made in a referendum requires that at least two things be considered.

First. Urgent amendment of the Law on Referendum to bring down the census for a successful referendum at a level that requires a majority to elect a president of the state, that is to say, 40 percent.

And secondly. The referendum statement of the citizens to be in the direction of whether they are opposed to the already signed agreement by the government. In this sense, citizens should be given the possibility of a referendum to prove that they have a majority that opposes the already signed agreement by the parliamentary majority.
Gjorge Ivanov, Hristijan Mickoski, Janko Bacev and others should organize a campaign and provide a majority that will say in a referendum that they do not accept the already signed agreement with Greece. In this respect, the referendum question should read: “Are you in favor of canceling the agreement signed by the Macedonian government with Greece?” Only if the majority of the referendum is secured on that issue can the political decision of the parliamentary majority be changed, and immediately afterwards, if necessary , go to new parliamentary election.

Citizens with this issue get the opportunity to voice their opinion in a referendum. The opposition will have to bring its supporters to such a referendum. And only on the basis of such a question can a real and constructive debate and campaign be conducted.

The government’s majority should not be naive. And it must not allow, in spite of all its optimism, and the entire international support, the political will of the vast majority of the citizens in Macedonia to be questioned by “missteps” and a poor interpretation of what the citizens should declare.

Gjorgji Spasov

(The author is a university professor)