By Talha Ozturk
BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Sunday's referendum in Macedonia to rename the country failed to secure the 50 percent turnout required to make the vote valid.
According to unofficial preliminary results announced by the State Election Commission (DIK) based on 98 percent of the votes counted, 91.4 percent people voted in favor of changing the name of Macedonia and 5.6 percent voted against it.
However, Macedonian law requires a turnout of at least 50 percent plus one vote for the referendum to be valid. Only 36.08 percent of the 1.8 million voters participated in the referendum.
"In this referendum it is clear that the decision has not been made,” election commission head Oliver Derkoski told reporters at a news conference.
Two questions were put before voters in the referendum. "Are you in favor of NATO and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?"
Greece, a member of both for decades, has long opposed Macedonia's official name, as it has a province called Macedonia in the north of the country.
Due to Athens' objections, the dispute was one of the main obstacles to Macedonia's ambitions to join NATO and the EU.
Negotiations between Macedonia and Greece have recently picked up pace as a new government in Skopje sought progress in its bid to join the two organizations.
The Greek Foreign Ministry announced that Greece would respect the preference of people of neighboring countries.
"Greece will remain committed to the Prespa Agreement. To preserve the positive momentum of the Prespa Agreement, all parties must take moderate steps without exception," said the statement.
Greek Prime Minister Aleksis Tsipras reportedly held a telephone conversation with his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.
Greek Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that Tsipras congratulated Zaev on his determination and courage in implementing the agreement.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who also leads the coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), said that most people in the neighboring country did not participate rendering the vote invalid.
The name issue has kept Macedonia from joining the EU and NATO since its independence in 1991.
Macedonia's international recognition was finalized in April 1993, when the country was unanimously adopted as a member of the UN General Assembly, but was admitted as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) due to pressure by Greece.
Despite the dispute between Athens and Skopje, many countries, including Turkey, recognize the country as Macedonia.