The Macedonian Parliament session to rename the country into North Macedonia was called off today after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev gave his remarks in defense of the proposal. Shortly after, Speaker Talat Xhaferi surprisingly adjourned the Parliament with the explanation that members should have to get written copies of Zaev’s speech.

This unusual reason given by Xhaferi for the postponement of the session for Thursday early afternoon prompted speculation that Zaev is still short of the 81 votes needed to amend the Constitution. After the session, in a TV interview, Zaev confirmed that he still doesn’t have the votes, but that it will all be clear “on the day of the vote” – without specifying when it would be.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected in Athens tomorrow, and the outcome of her visit if a far more likely reason that the session in Skopje was postponed today, than the lack of pre-prepared copies of Zaev’s speech. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also faces a tough vote in Parliament to ratify not only the so-called Prespa treaty but Greece’s acceptance of Macedonia’s entry into NATO as well. With this Greece will give up its veto power in NATO, which it has used since 2008, and its future ability to pressure Macedonia would be significantly weakened.

The date of Merkel’s visit is far from coincidental. If nothing unexpected happens, Zaev’s Government will complete the revision of its Constitution and the Prespa treaty will be put before the Greek Parliament. As German sources say, Merkel wants to support the deal in its final stage and this is the purpose of her visit, Kathimerini writes.

Tsipras’ Government could collapse over the deal, as his nationalist coalition partner ANEL has threatened to leave the Government if the deal is even put before Parliament, while centrist To Potami is prepared to support Tsipras on the name deal, but will not prop up his Government. This has raised the prospect that Greece may delay the vote to ratify the treaty or at least the NATO protocol.

Meanwhile back in Macedonia, Zaev defended the deal in Parliament and before the public in a televised interview.

We will have a state recognized by all, a nation which nobody will deny in the future, a Macedonian language recognized by all… This is what our fathers, grandfather and great grandfathers fought for. We will finally close all bilateral issues with our neighbors, Zaev said.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski spoke at the protest rally before the Parliament, saying that the deal Zaev negotiated with Alexis Tsipras is harmful and will have far reaching consequences against the Macedonian national identity, and will only make Macedonia’s relations with neighboring countries worse, given that the deal creates mechanism to raise countless historic issues and throw them on Macedonia’s path to join the EU.

It will remain written that not the citizens, but 80 members of Parliament, whose votes were secured with blackmail and threats, are giving up the name. The representatives vote under pressure, and not based on their conviction and free will. I realize some will try to deny this, but you, in the media, the wider public, you are all aware about the backstage games being played with Zaev’s selective reconciliation process. I ask you, are these European values? Of course not. All those kidding themselves that this is the way we will have a European Macedonia are delusional. We are getting further away from Europe with what we are doing, with a ruling majority violating all norms at a daily basis. This Government has lost its legitimacy by pursuing a policy which did not receive legitimacy from the citizens. Zoran Zaev and his narrow group of supporters want to secure their positions and privileges by pushing North Macedonia through, but my homeland, the homeland of all the citizens, is the Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Macedonia we voted for at the independence referendum on September 8th 1991, said Mickoski.

VMRO-DPMNE left the Parliament and refuse to take part in the renaming of the country. Eight former members of the opposition party joined Zaev in opening the process to amend the Constitution and it is likely they, and possibly additional members, vote with him for the final version of the amendments. Mickoski accused Zaev of using politically motivated criminal charges to pressure VMRO-DPMNE members of Parliament to vote to rename the country, as some 15 current and former members of the party have various charges thrown at them.

A new problem arose for Zaev when two smaller ethnic Albanian parties said they will not vote for the amendments unless the Albanian community gets further concessions in the Constitution. After talks with one of them, the Alliance of Albanians, Zaev agreed to further water down the reference to the Macedonian nation in the Preamble of the Constitution and to specifically mention the Republic of Kosovo in one of the articles. But the other party, BESA, is reportedly still refusing to support the name change and demands that the one mention of the Macedonian nationality is deleted from the text. The formula “Nationality: Macedonian/citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia” was negotiated with Greece, but BESA wants to completely remove the word “Macedonian”, so as not to prejudge the ethnic background of the citizens.