Romanian President’s Impeachment Raises Concerns Over Autonomy of Democratic Institutions
July 9, 2012
By: Franz Essig | Printer Friendly
On July 6, members of Romania’s parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of impeaching Romanian President Traian Basescu. The 256 to114 vote paves the way for a national referendum, which will finalize the impeachment process and comes amid decreasing popularity of Romania’s eight-year president. Senate Speaker Crin Antonescu will serve as President in the interim.
Basescu, a center-right politician who constitutionally cannot be affiliated with any party, had been engaged in a longtime power struggle with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the Social Liberal Union party (USL), which holds a comfortable majority in the Romanian parliament. Critics have accused Basescu and Ponta of stalling decision-making processes during a time in which the government should be preparing for the finalization of a $3 billion USD aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Before the July 29 referendum for the impeachment, the Constitutional Court must rule on the government’s attempted change of the impeachment process. The proposed rule would require a simple majority of the votes cast, instead of an absolute majority of all registered voters. If allowed, the rule change will likely result in impeachment as evidenced by a recent poll in which 65 percent of voters claimed that they would rule in favor of ousting Basescu. According to Reuters, if the rule does not change there is believed to be a chance that Basescu survives the vote. However, the court is expected to uphold the government’s proposal, and even if it does not, an emergency decree announced by Ponta’s government may override any ruling made by the Constitutional Courts.
Earlier in the week, the USL had voted to get rid of both speakers of the houses of parliament, both of whom were allies of Basescu, as well as the ombudsman, due to alleged political bias. The newly appointed ombudsman is a former USL member of parliament. USL lawmakers had also threatened to oust members of the Constitutional Court. Following the announcement of the parliament’s efforts to change impeachment proceedings, hundreds of demonstrators on both sides gathered outside parliament.
The political turmoil has raised concerns about the future of democracy in Romania. United States (US) Ambassador to Bucharest Mark Gitenstein said that he was “deeply concerned” about the “independence of democratic institutions.” European Union (EU) Commissioner Justice Viviane Reding posted on Twitter that she was “seriously concerned about the recent attacks on the independence of the Constitutional Court in Romania.” Furthermore, the EU released a critical statement that said that “the rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of the European democracy.”
These events could also have an effect on Romania’s economy by damaging its credibility among foreign investors. One Bucharest foreign exchange dealer told Reuters that “the long-term damage to Romania’s image as a democracy has already been done.”
Both Basescu and Ponta had been losing popular support. Basescu’s detractors have accused him of overstepping his presidential powers in an effort to influence Romania’s high courts. He is also criticized for allegedly making prejudiced statements about Roma and the disabled. Meanwhile, Ponta was recently accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. Ponta is already the third prime minister this year, with accusations of corruption and calls for austerity unseating his predecessors.
This will mark the second time that an impeachment referendum is held against President Basescu. In 2007, following a vote to suspend his presidency due to his anti-corruption activities, Basescu overwhelmingly won the national referendum with 74% voting to allow him to remain in office.
For more news on Romania, please see:
Opposition and Anti-Government Protestors Demand Romanian President’s Resignation
Associated Press (via Huffington Post) – Romania President Impeached Amid EU, US Concern
BBC – Romanian Parliament Votes to Suspend President Basescu
Reuters – Romania Court Ruling May Decide President’s Fate