Statement made by VMRO-DPMNE president Hristijan Mickoski that he will vote against the referendum on the agreement with Greece, has opened a dilemma whether the opposition with its active participation will help provide a census, although it is difficult to expect that it will succeed in winning the battle with the joint votes of SDSM and Albanian parties. Rightists and citizens opposed to changing the constitutional name require the opposition to boycott the referendum, which would not have enough turnout and the agreement would be annulled. On the other hand, it is unclear whether the referendum will be advisory or binding, ie whether a (legal) decision will be adopted by autumn, with which the turnout of 50 per cent, plus one citizen of the total number of registered voters, will not be obligatory.
The figures from the last parliamentary elections held in December 2016 show that 1,784,416 citizens were registered for voting, while in the last year’s local elections numbers were higher: 1,814,644 voters. That means that in order for the referendum to succeed, according to current regulations, 900,000 citizens must come out and vote. Nearly 1.2 million people voted two years ago, and less than 1.1 million last year. But in these figures, the vast support that VMRO-DPMNE received: 454,577 in 2016 and 335,054 last year. This means that in an imaginary situation in which the Social Democrats and all Albanian political parties would support the agreement, while securing 100% of their voters, they cannot gather more than 700-800 thousand voters.
“For these reasons, one should be particularly careful, because VMRO-DPMNE gets a lot of power, and we still do not know if Mickoski is an autochthonous or under pressure from Gruevski and Mijalkov. The very list with 1.8 million voters is artificial, we do not know how many people have immigrated, while 1.1 million people regularly vote in the elections. Therefore, it is best for the parties in the government and the opposition to come to an agreement, to come up with some kind of statement, a decision with which the referendum would be consultative, but with a binding character. So, to not focus on a census, but the results of the referendum to be accepted as such, regardless of how many people gave their vote,” says analyst Petar Arsovski.
At the early parliamentary election in 2016, 1,531,368 people with permanent residence in Macedonia were registered, 230,122 perso
ns were registered as temporary workers or staying abroad, but did not register for voting in the embassies, as well as about twenty thousand emigrants who registered for voting in diplomatic and consular missions. With the existing legal regulations, emigrants are allowed to vote only in parliamentary and presidential elections, but not in a referendum. However, there are still about 250,000 citizens who are temporarily abroad, who do not know whether, or where they will vote.
“VMRO-DPMNE is a party that promoted the referendum as a final stage in the eventual settlement of the name dispute. Following this logic, the party should come out and state its opinion. That’s the party’s legacy. The worst-case scenario for VMRO-DPMNE will be an unspecified, ie stopping halfway. They must crystallize their attitude and communicate it to the citizens. I myself was a fierce critic of SDSM when it came out with a campaign for the referendum on the territorial division in 2004: ‘Some questions do not deserve an answer’ and boycotted the declaration. On the contrary, I think that all questions deserve an answer, and the citizens should come out and say whether the agreement with Greece is acceptable or not,” said analyst Saso Klekovski.
Announcing the solution reached with his Greek counterpart, Prime Minister Zaev stressed that a referendum will certainly be held in late September or early October, without specifying whether it will be consultative or binding, but noted that in both cases institutions will have to respect the voice of the people because theirs will be final and conclusive.
“If Zoran Zaev tries to smuggle this so-called agreement or capitulation in the Assembly, he needs to know and be aware that there must finally be a mandatory referendum, not a consultative one. I, as Hristijan Mickoski in that referendum, will vote against this so-called agreement,” says the leader of VMRO-DPMNE.
Meanwhile, the party is looking for a way to mitigate the reactions of a part of the hardline wing, which “seeks a referendum boycott, conducted from outside and with a previously known epilogue”, filing thousands of amendments if the deal reaches the assembly and organizes protests against any changes in the name Republic of Macedonia. Officials from the ‘White Palace’ say that the next steps are cautiously planned.
Some analysts close to the government are proposing that, along with the referendum on the name, early parliamentary election be organized in order to activate the VMRO membership in the society and to provide a census. Zaev said he would like the government to be in power until the end of the entire term, but if early elections are to be held together with the referendum or the presidential election in a year, polls show that the SDSM coalition is in the forefront of leadership.
“I have stated my position, I did not even consult with my coalition partners that we should go through the entire term of four years. It is good for the economy and for the citizens. But if things depend on other factors, of course, we are ready for elections. Surveys invite us to go to the polls. I’m not saying this to send threats, but I say that we honestly look at the period that is right before the citizens and our country,” Zaev said.
According to the agreement of the presidents of the governments of Macedonia and Greece, the new name of our country will be “Republic of North Macedonia”, and a lot of things are also regulated, including language, identity, vehicle registration plates, internet domain, monuments from the project “Skopje 2014” etc.