Thursday

25th May 2017

Romania court rules to reinstate President Basescu

  • Romania's president Traian Basescu is reinstated following a constitutional court decision on the contested 29 July referendum to impeach him. (Photo: Romania Libera)

Romania’s constitutional court on Tuesday (21 August) ruled against a 29 July referendum to oust President Traian Basescu.

The judges voted six to three to reinstate the suspended president and invalidate claims made by Basescu’s archrival prime minister Victor Ponta and his centre-left Social Liberal Union (USL) coalition that the referendum was based on an out-dated population census.

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Ponta had earlier said that Basescu could return to his post if at least six judges declared the referendum invalid, reported Reuters.

Just over 46 percent of registered voters turned out for the referendum, failing to meet the required threshold of minimum 50 percent plus one. Of those who did turn out, 87.52 percent voted to impeach the president.

“We stated that the referendum quorum condition was not met,” the court’s president Judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters.

The 39 year-old Ponta claims the referendum would have passed the threshold had some 3 million people who had moved abroad or died been removed from the census.

Basescu will now be able to return as president but remains deeply unpopular for having supported wage cuts and tax increases as pre-conditions for a €20 billion rescue package agreed with the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in May 2009.

Romania’s interim president Crin Antonescu and close ally to Ponta told reporters that he would respect the court’s decision and step down.

The political rifts caused additional concern among the country’s IMF backers who said the infighting undermined investor confidence and Romania’s standing in financial markets. Romania is seeking an €5 billion rescue package from the IMF.

Romania’s parliament suspended Basescu in July after the USL had accused him of blocking government policy and over-stepping his mandate.

He has also been accused by the USL of ignoring corruption, an issue that some 93 percent of Romanians polled in a European Commission flash barometer in May view as a major problem plaguing the country.

“High-level corruption cases involving local dignitaries such as prefects, presidents of county councils or mayors continue to experience questionable delays and interruptions,” stated the European Commission in its country report on Romania in July.

Meanwhile, the constitutional court had originally intended to deliver a verdict on the ruling on 2 August.

Judges on the court claim they have faced death threats and intimidation, drawing sharp alarm from European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso who said any such allegations must be immediately and thoroughly investigated.

In a letter addressed to the EU justice and home affairs minister Viviane Reding on 3 August, the court’s president Augustin Zegrean, said government intimidation was undermining the court’s judicial independence.

“Following the debates concerning the validation of the referendum for the suspension of the President of Romania, Mr. Traian Băsescu, which took place on 29 July 2012, a judge confessed to the other judges that he was afraid to vote because of threats received by him and his family,” wrote Zegrean.

Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), applauded the court’s decision claiming it has “put an end to a debate that has hurt Romania”.

Analysis

Something is rotten in the state of Romania

The view of ruling politicians that public institutions - be they cultural institutes, media, or, more worryingly, the judiciary - need to obey the ruling party has never been completely eradicated since Communism fell.

Romanian government hit by corruption cases

Political infighting has flared up once again in Romania - a development likely to set alarm bells ringing in Brussels over the independence of the country's justice system.

EU visa waiver looms for Russia-annexed Crimeans

Visa liberalisation for Ukrainians entering the EU will also apply to inhabitants of the peninsula taken over by Moscow in 2014. But the issue poses administrative as well as political problems.

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