Romanian President Basescu Survives Impeachment Referendum, Status Still Uncertain
August 8, 2012
By: Franz Essig | Printer Friendly
On August 1, Romania’s Constitutional Court announced that it would release its decision regarding the fate President Traian Basescu in mid-September, which would determine the validity of an impeachment referendum held on July 29. Voters overwhelmingly supported the referendum, but fewer eligible voters participated than the required number for the referendum to be conclusive.
Both sides have claimed victory in the days following the referendum. After the results were announced, Basescu claimed that “the Romanian people have rejected the coup staged by…lawmakers led by Victor Ponta.” From the opposition, Ponta stated that “this is a great victory for the Romanian people to get nine million Romanians out to vote” and said that “any politician who believes he can ignore nine million people is being unrealistic.”
The impeachment referendum came after Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta of the opposition Social Liberal Union (SLU) accused Basescu of breaching presidential powers when he used the secret service against his political opponents and refused to appoint cabinet officials approved by the prime minister. On July 6, the SLU-controlled parliament voted to impeach Basescu, putting his presidency on suspension until the completion of the general referendum. Basescu will remain suspended until the Court announces its decision.
The Constitutional Court now has the difficult task of ruling on the referendum’s conflicting data. The Central Election Bureau announced that over 85 percent voted in favor of impeachment but that overall voter turnout was only 46 percent, lower than the 50 percent threshold required to validate the referendum. However, the Court also acknowledged that the Central Election Bureau, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the National Statistics Institute released conflicting figures. Further complicating the validity of the results are complaints by Ponta’s supporters, who argue that the voting rolls are inaccurate because they include a number of dead, imprisoned and other ineligible voters.
The future of Romania’s political stability was further challenged on August 7, when the Constitutional Court appealed to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for protection because it is under what it called “shocking” political pressure leading up to its decision. The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, had already responded to a previous appeal by Romania’s Constitutional Court in the days prior to the referendum, when Ponta’s supporters had put considerable pressure on the court to change the referendum procedures in order to make impeachment more likely. Ponta ultimately backed down after pressure from the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and Germany. President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio said that it is “surprising, and even shocking, that for the second time in a short period of time the constitutional court of a member state of the Council of Europe and the European Union feels obliged to appeal to the Venice Commission in order to protect its independence.”
In July, the European Commission announced that “urgent” action was required in order to reinforce the rule of law in Romania. President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barosso said that recent political turmoil in the country had led to undemocratic behavior, including “challenging judicial decisions, undermining the constitutional court, overturning established procedures and removing key checks and balances.”
For previous news on Romania, please see:
Romanian President's Impeachment Raises Concerns Over Autonomy of Democratic Institutions
New York Times – Court Decides Not to Certify Ouster Vote in Romania
New York Times – Europe Rebukes Romania On Democratic Efforts
Reuters – “Shocking” Political Pressure On Romania Court—Council of Europe
Telegraph – Romania’s President Survives Impeachment Referendum