49 percent of all registered voters came out to vote in the referendum to change the name to integrate the country into the EU and NATO, of which 90 percent were “in favor” and 10 percent “against”. Theoretically, in the near future, similar news such as this (which is hypothetical), perhaps with slightly different percentages, may emerge in the media – as an announcement that, despite the solid turnout and the clearly expressed will of the majority of voters, the plebiscitary vote of the “historic agreement” with Greece was unsuccessful. In such a case, the name agreement would basically be invalid, which would actually be in favor of the minority voters who voted “against”…
The high threshold in the case of a referendum vote is now being imposed as one of the risks in the further stages of the implementation of the Prespa agreement. Therefore, the option of lowering the turnout census is also imposed on the public, although according to expert interpretations, this is impossible without constitutional amendments, which, if adopted, would require a two-thirds majority in parliament.
“The census envisaged for a referendum cannot be reduced by legislative changes. This requires an intervention in the Constitution, which also stipulates that referendum decisions are binding. The outcome of the referendum is an obligation for all holders of power. This is called a global imperative mandate, given that citizens are the bearers of sovereignty, and lawmakers are their representatives,” said Svetomir Skaric, university professor of constitutional law.
However, he believes that the referendum census should not be reduced, because, as he says, the higher the threshold of turnout, the more legitimate the decisions. The same thing, said Skaric, I thought about the presidential election, because the lowering of the census from 50 to 40 percent also weakens the legitimacy of the holder of the presidency.
“The Assembly decides to call a referendum on certain issues of its competence with a majority of the votes of the total number of MPs. The decision of the referendum is adopted if the majority of the voters who voted – voted “in favor”, if more than half of the total number of voters have cast their votes. The assembly is obliged to announce a referendum when a proposal is submitted by at least 150,000 voters. The decision taken at the referendum is mandatory,” reads the constitutional article 73.
Government officials have recently come out with estimates that it is not known exactly how many voters there are in the country. Although the voter list has about 1.8 million voters, it should also take the estimates into account that in the past few years more than half a million people from the country who had been displaced could not exercise their right to vote out of the country, yet only if they travel back for the referendum in their places of origin.
“There is no time to update the list now, so political decisions must be made,” chief of diplomacy Nikola Dimitrov said recently, pointing out that he would look for ways to amortize the danger of a lower turnout than the necessary in the referendum that should be held in September, possibly in October – as the expected predecessor of the “constitutional review”, in line with the agreement with Greece.
According to estimates in political circles, one of the possibilities for mobilizing as many voters as possible is to hold early parliamentary election in parallel. But the risk in this case is that the electorate be split only after the “in favor” and ” “against” the agreement with Greece, regardless of the election programs that the leading political parties plan to present.
The same turnout threshold of over 50 percent was predicted earlier and for the second round of the presidential election, in order for it to be successful. Through constitutional changes, that census has now been reduced to a 40% turnout. In the last presidential election, in 2014, the turnout, however, was over 50 percent, ie close to 55 percent, with parliamentary election taking place with the second round of the country’s vote.
The presidential elections in 2009, however, were held in a “package” with local election, while in 2004, the previous president Branko Crvenkovski was elected to the office at the edge of the turnout census, since then was still the rule of turnout half of the registered voters in the election to be successful.
The second and last referendum ever since Macedonia’s independence – against the new Law on Territorial Organization, failed in 2004, due to the boycott of both the ruling SDSM and the Albanian parties, as opposed to the opposition parties and associations around VMRO-DPMNE who stood in support of the initiative which was raised by the World Macedonian Congress. Turnout was about 26.5 percent (despite the fact that nearly 95 percent of voters chose the “In favor” option) was just over half of the required census for the referendum to be successful.
Now, SDSM is basically in a reverse situation compared to that 14 years ago. As the main ruling party, now it is necessary for it to ensure the mobilization of the electorate in a situation when the parties of the Albanians support the agreement with Greece, but that is why the position of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE is uncertain. Although party leader Hristijan Mickoski announced a campaign against the name change, which would involve the participation of the opposition in the referendum, the risk of a silent boycott of the hardline right-wing in and around VMRO-DPMNE remains open.
The estimates in the political circles are that the text of the referendum question, the date of voting, and the style of the campaign led by the parties… are some of the factors that will affect the percentage of turnout at the third state-level referendum in the country.
Aleksandra M. Mitevska