Campaigning starts ahead of Macedonia's name deal referendum

Campaigning starts ahead of Macedonia's name deal referendum
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev takes the "yes" campaign to the city of Veles
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje September 11, 2018

Macedonia officially launched the campaign for the referendum on the name deal with Greece on September 10. The critical vote is scheduled for the end of this month.

On September 30, citizens will be asked to vote on whether they are for Nato and EU membership by accepting the name deal with Greece. Under the agreement, Macedonia will be renamed North Macedonia, a move that will unblock its EU and Nato integration processes.

Recently the government decided the parliament would receive MKD80mn (€1.3mn) for political parties to use for campaigning for the referendum, whether they plan to campaign for a yes or a no in the plebiscite.

71 of 120 MPs, mainly from the governing parties, agreed to be involved in the campaign. In addition to the political parties, the EU office in Skopje is also campaigning with video spots and billboards. The campaign will end on September 27, three days before the vote. 

According to a recent poll released by the International Republican Institute (IRI) on August 29, the majority of Macedonian citizens support the country’s bids to join the EU and Nato.

A combined 57% of those polled were in favour of resolving the name dispute with Greece, with 37% of them saying they “completely support” the deal, while “somewhat support" was picked by 20%, IRI said.

However, the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party has not yet decided whether to take part in the referendum or to boycott it. VMRO is against the name deal as it would require constitutional changes to reflect provisions in the agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the Western leaders who visited Macedonia last week, called on people in Macedonia on September 8 to accept the name deal with Greece in the upcoming referendum as a chance for the country to join Nato and to launch EU accession talks.

US Senator Ron Johnson was the latest Western official who visited Macedonia. On September 10 he met Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to reiterate the US support for Nato membership.

At the end of August, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) formally opened the referendum observation mission in Macedonia where it will deploy 270 observers.