• Basescu: hostile banners are still seen in the centre of Bucharest after more than 80 percent of voters said he should go (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Romanian President: 'I survived a coup'

30.07.12 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Political instability looks set to continue in Romania despite claims of a referendum victory by President Traian Basescu.

The country's Central Electoral Commission announced after polls closed at 11pm local time on Sunday (29 July) that the turnout was 45.92 percent - just short of the 50 percent threshold required by the Constitutional Court.

Basescu in a TV address the same day used fighting talk to describe the result.

"The flame of democracy has remained alight. Romanians have rejected the coup d'etat," he said.

For his part, the centre-right President's nemesis, centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta, noted: "The Romanian government will respect all decisions of the Constitutional Court and will act as a factor of stability in the next period, regardless of whether the referendum is validated or not."

His remarks point to the fact the court must still endorse the outcome in a decision expeced later this week.

One of Ponta's accusations leading up to the vote is that Basescu abused his powers by installing political friends on the constitutional tribunal.

Ponta last week also signed an agreement with a trade union of ex-military personnel saying the court should be dismantled.

Meanwhile, the electoral commission's turnout figure has an official margin of error of 3 percent and does not include votes by expats.

The Ponta side warned in the run-up to the referendum that Basescu supporters would use fraud. On Sunday night, two pro-Ponta MPs, Dan Constantin and Relu Fenechiu, said, on the basis of a parallel count, that the real turnout was 52 percent.

The vast majority of people who did vote - over 85 percent according to exit polls by Romanian TV stations - wanted Basescu to go.

The President has become unpopular since his re-election in 2009 due to austerity cuts and allegations of cronyism, such as helping his glamourous daughter to become an MEP.

If the referendum result sticks, Basescu, who was suspended from office earlier this month pending the vote, will take back powers from interim president and Ponta ally Crin Antonescu, setting the stage for more political infighting ahead of parliamentary elections in November.

The EU has taken a strong interest in the process in the name of protecting democracy.

Last week it urged Ponta to uphold the Consititutional Court's decision to set the threshold at 50 percent after the Prime Minister's people tried to scrap the cut-off point.