Since the announcement of the referendum until it was held there was a lot of information in the public on its type, who will support it, who will boycott it, whether the census will be reduced and so on. Many fake news and disinformation were present in the social networks and the media, writes “CriThink”.
On September 30, a Referendum was held in Macedonia at state level, third of its kind, and the citizens were asked the following question: “Do you support EU and NATO membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece?”. The Referendum was unsuccessful, since the voter turnout was less than the 50 percent threshold required to validate the results. According to the data published by the State Election Commission, the Referendum voter turnout was 36.91 % of the total number of voters. The total of 666,743 voters voted on the Referendum, whereby 609,813 voted in favour and 37,700 voted against, while 19,221 were invalid or blank votes.
The directive for the Referendum campaign was published on 14.8.2018 by the Government.
The Referendum campaign will be implemented in order to share information of public interest for the citizens/voters in Republic of Macedonia about the content of the Agreement with Greece, the benefits from the integration of Republic of Macedonia in NATO and EU and the plan according to which the country will make its progress towards the Alliance and the Union, the Government announced.
Many high officials from abroad, especially leaders of EU member states supported the option “In favour”, since, as they have pointed out, it will bring Macedonia closer to EU and NATO. Among the persons who visited and supported the country with regards to the Referendum was Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor; Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor; James Norman Mattis, Secretary of Defence of US and Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO.
Here we have selected 5 top cases of disinformation on the Referendum.
1.VMRO-DPMNE DOES NOT CONSIDER QUIET REFERENDUM
Mitko Jancev, one of the vice presidents of VMRO-DPMNE and member of party’s Executive Committee, was guest in the show “Top Tema na vasa strana” where he stated the following:
I am not part of any quiet boycott and I reckon that the members of the Executive Committee and the president of the party have not and should not have any such considerations. VMRO-DMPNE contemplates how to promptly become the ruling party once again.
The largest opposition political party – VMRO-DPMNE threatened to boycott the Referendum. Although at the beginning of September, only few weeks before the Referendum Hristijan Mickoski, leader of the party, gave a statement summoning the citizens to act according to their own free will when it comes to boycotting or not, numerous actions by party high officials exemplified that it actually quietly boycotts the Referendum.
In the public, political parties, NGOs and citizens initiatives established Crisis headquarters against the Referendum, running the campaign “Македонија бојкотира“ (“Macedonia Boycotts“). 28 organizations have signed the Memorandum of Cooperation, and the front was led by Janko Bacev, leader of “Edinstvena Makedonija” political party. VMRO-DPMNE was not publicly part of the Referendum Crisis Headquarters.
However, the actual happenings showed quite different reality. The party was not part of the Referendum campaign. In addition, all of the highest and most important officials or persons on high state positions that were appointed or were candidates of VMRO-DPMNE, or to be more specific the members of the Executive Committee of the party and the president, took steps and measures which could be deemed as quiet boycott. These steps were intended to obstruct the Referendum and make it unsuccessful, not by having more votes “against”, but by having insufficient number of votes by the supporters and members of VMRO-DPMNE.
For example, Antonio Milososki, one of the distinguished officials of the party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, publicly and openly stated that he will boycott the Referendum, even before the bodies of the party gave any opinion regarding the Referendum. Afterwards, many officials, one of which is Trajko Veljanoski, former Parliament speaker, also openly stated that they will boycott the Referendum. The same was also stated by president Gjorgji Ivanov, who was the candidate of VMRO-DPMNE in the presidential elections, as well as Nikola Gruevski, party president emeritus and former prime minister. When so many high officials of the party publicly state that they will boycott the Referendum, the only way to interpret this is that the party will boycott the Referendum as well. It is irrational to say that VMRO-DPMNE does not boycott the Referendum, when all of the party’s highest officials apparently refuse to vote.
- VMRO-DPMNE HAS NOTHING IN COMMON WITH “I BOYCOTT”
Furthermore, there are many indicators showing that VMRO-DPMNE is somewhat connected with “Бојкотирам” (“I Boycott”), which was presented to the public as independent and non-party movement. On the other hand, the video materials for boycotting the Referendum from “I Boycott” were mainly using screenshots and entire segments from VMRO-DPMNE pre-election videos, as well as video clips from “Macedonia Timeless” created at the time when VMRO-DPMNE was the ruling political party; however, now they were adjusted to spread the message for the boycott. In addition, the platform placed in front of the Parliament of Republic of Macedonia, where the “successful” boycott was celebrated, was filled with officials of VMRO-DPMNE Union of Young Forces, and there was a celebration in front of the Parliament of RM about the unreached census of the Referendum, but there was another celebration in VMRO-DPMNE headquarters as well, while people waited for the president Kristijan Mickoski, to show up and hold a press conference.
Furthermore, the entire rhetoric of “I Boycott” was quite similar to the rhetoric of VMRO-DPMNE, once the party became the opposing party. Media close to VMRO-DPMNE actively followed the activities of “I Boycott” and were published positive information and news about them, giving them unlimited space in their program, which is something that nobody else but VMRO-DPMNE gets.
When it comes to the activities of “I Boycott” on the social networks, the same anonymous profiles which during the pre-election campaigns agitated for VMRO-DPMNE, showed up before the Referendum with series of statuses and tweets calling for boycott of the Referendum and attacking the national and foreign state officials who supported the Referendum and the Prespa Agreement.
So, even if VMRO-DPMNE has not organized the “I Boycott” movement, as the party claims, still there are too many joint policies and connections when it comes to the actions and reactions during the political events, which only confirm that there is some connection between them.
- PERSONAL ID CARDS AS GUARANTEE FOR THE BOYCOTT
Vane Cvetanov, former function holder in VMRO-DPMNE, blames VMRO-DPMNE that the party forced its supporters and members to “entrust” their ID documents (personal ID cards and passports) as a form of enacting the boycott and hindrance to everybody who would change their minds.
The Referendum is your vote for EU and NATO. Your vote for the future of Macedonia! Therefore, do not be subject to threats and pressures. Asking for your personal ID cards is an attempt to trade with them, which is not legal. The criminals will pay for what they have done!, stated Cvetanov.
This claim of his was not checked by the competent institutions and remained open throughout the Referendum process.
- THE NAME WILL BE CHANGED ON THE REFERENDUM WITHOUT CENSUS
Is the field being prepared for excluding the census in case of voter turnout of 50% on the forthcoming Referendum and for amendment to the Law on Referendum, in order to play with the free will of the Macedonian people. Taratur portal posted such text in the course of June, quoting “Alfa” TV.
The political analysts defending the government policies are already creating the scenario which is most favourable for the Referendum and the citizens’ opinion about the Agreement with Greece. Petar Arsovski, political analyst, in his statement for “Alsat” said that the only way to ensure fair competition on the Referendum is to exclude the census in case of 50% voter turnout.
On June 21, Nikola Dimitrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the show “Top-tema” on “Telma” TV mentioned loweing the minimal turnout for the Referendum, but from the aspect of not knowing the precise number of voters in the country, since no census has been conducted. However, he did not say that the Government has such intention.
He also reminded that there are around 1 million and 800 thousand voters, but that there are 500 thousand emigrated persons. But right now there is no time to review the list of voters, so political decisions must be made, said Dimitrov, as announced by “Telma”.
On July 2, Renata Deskoska, Minister of Justice, in the address on the third session of the Ohrid School of Natural Law on the topic: ”Good management and legal reforms”, decisively said that the minimal turnout for the Referendum will not lowered:
The important element that constitutes the mosaic of the rule of law is the supremacy of the Constitution. We have seen that so far the Constitution was just a piece of paper being stepped on and not adhered to – the efforts of the new Government is to make the Constitution a sacred letter, which should be implemented in our everyday lives. As a jurist and minister, these days I have been hearing various questions about whether we can modify the census for the Referendum with the Law on Referendum. No we cannot, because the census is a category under the Constitution. If we want a rule of law and adherence to the Constitution, we cannot change something that is strictly guaranteed with the Constitution.
- TODOROV WILL VOTE “IN FAVOUR” ON THE REFERENDUM
In the course of the campaign, the news in part of the media that Nikola Todorov, former Minister of Health and VMRO-DPMNE official will vote in favour of the Referendum came as quite a shocking news.
Todorov, who participated in a forum in MFA titled “We debate about NATO”, explained that he will vote in favour of the Referendum because VMRO-DPMNE leadership does not take a stand about the Referendum, and leaves it to the supporters to act on their own free will, “Sloboden pecat” wrote.
Todorov expressly denied such information via Facebook:
Saying that I will vote in favour of the Referendum is false news. On the contrary, I said that I could never vote “in favour”. I clearly say that I will vote “against” the Agreement, and “in favour” of EU and NATO. I will write this question by myself, and I will answer it as I said.