Greece's Tsipras signals snap elections over Macedonia's name change deal

Published 26.01.2019 15:39

As the debate over renaming Macedonia entered the final stretch, the peril for the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government remains, with the high possibility of a snap election before his term expires in October.

The Macedonia issue is sensitive in Greece, where political stability is pivotal as the country emerges from a huge debt crisis. The name change deal, reached in June after almost three decades of acrimony, has caused political turmoil in Greece.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he would seek its ratification in parliament this month despite strong opposition within his governing coalition. Tsipras said in a TV interview Wednesday that if his junior coalition partner withdraws its support over the Macedonia deal, he would seek a government confidence vote before the agreement comes to parliament.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos' small right-wing Independent Greeks party had vowed to oppose the deal and vote against it in parliament, which would leave the government dependent on the support of opposition parties to see it approved.

The deal is intended to end a long dispute over the official name of Macedonia, one bitter enough for Greece to block the former Yugoslav republic from joining international organizations such as NATO and the EU. Greece bitterly fought its young neighbor's use of the name when it gained independence, saying it implied territorial claims on its own Macedonia province and on ancient Greek heritage.

Meanwhile, Macedonian lawmakers on Wednesday began debating a motion to change their country's name. The switch to "the Republic of North Macedonia" is far from assured as it entails four constitutional amendments and requires the support of two-thirds of the 120-member parliament. Along with formalizing the name change, the amendments to the preamble and four articles of the constitution states North Macedonia has no ambitions on adjacent territory and is committed to good neighborly relations. If the change does go through, Athens has promised to lift its veto on Skopje's attempts to join NATO and the EU.

Some 200 Macedonian nationalists opposed to the name change as a surrender to Greek pressure staged a peaceful protest outside parliament, rallied by a nationalist group calling itself "Tvrdokorni," or the "Hardliners." Leading figures in the opposition right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, which was in power until 2017, are fighting the change in parliament and at street rallies.

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