Low turnout invalidates Romania impeachment vote
by Daniel Mason
Romania's centre-right president Traian Basescu has survived an impeachment referendum after too few people turned out to vote to make the result valid. However, his feud with left-wing Prime Minister Victor Ponta is set to continue as exit polls showed that more than 80 per cent of Romanians who did vote wanted the president to go.
Turnout on Sunday was 45.92 per cent with a 3 per cent margin of error, the country's electoral commission said, leaving it short of the 50 per cent needed under a ruling enforced by the constitutional court. That body must confirm the official outcome of the ballot later this week.
"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," Ponta said.
Claiming victory, Basescu, who has been president since 2004, said Romanians had "rejected a coup d'état". He and opposition parties had called on his supporters to boycott the vote. "I assure Romanians that once I return … I will try and generate a sentiment of reconciliation in society," he said. "It's clear that Romanians are unhappy about what has happened in recent years. Divisions in society must be stopped."
The referendum was held as Ponta – who came to power in May – claimed the president had exceeded his powers. Basescu's popularity had earlier waned after he introduced a raft of austerity measures, and the pair even argued over who should represent Romania at European Union summits. The row has raised doubts about the country's commitment to the terms of its €5bn International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.
Meanwhile Ponta's centre-left government has been accused of lacking respect for the independence of state institutions and the judiciary, amid attempts to replace Basescu allies from key positions – while the prime minister himself faced accusations that he plagiarised his doctoral thesis in 2004.
The Romanian parliament voted to suspend the president earlier this month as the row between the two leaders intensified. Questions about democracy and the rule of law in Romania have been raised by EU leaders in Brussels as the dispute between the prime minister and president has dominated the country's politics.
Both Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, are monitored by Brussels over concerns about corruption and judicial independence. Just last week European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding said she was "very much worried" about democracy in Romania.
The minimum turnout rule for the referendum was among the measures demanded by the EU to restore credibility in the political system. Earlier this month commission president José Manuel Barroso warned that the developments "may be putting at risk progress made over the years" since Romania joined the EU.
But Sunday's vote had produced "no winners", according to Hannes Swoboda, leader of the European Parliament's Socialists and Democrats group, which is aligned with Ponta's party. "Now all political parties should work to make sure that Romania will not be the loser," he said. "The political forces must act responsibly for the country and stop the infighting that could endanger Romania's credibility and position in Europe."
He criticised Basescu's description of the referendum as an attempted coup, saying instead that it was a "democratic process foreseen in the Romanian constitution".
Centre-right European People's Party chairman Joseph Daul said: "Romania's international credibility was damaged over the past weeks due to the abusive actions of the government led by Victor Ponta. The government now needs to return to responsible actions as a matter of utmost priority."
Opinion polls suggested that about 65 per cent of the electorate want Basescu to step down but the way the government has attempted to remove him has been divisive. This was the second time the president has faced an impeachment referendum during his tenure. Meanwhile a general election is due in Romania in the autumn.
How long can the European Union tolerate such a position taken against the will of 8.5 million voters - 87 per cent - in the late Romanian referendum?
Michael Hodgson - UK
Wrong. Not 8.5 milions, the party in power made their rules. Thats the reason the ones for democracy didn't vote to validate the communists who are trying again to destroy the country to take over the justice. If you don't know, don't say it. A lot of the votes were fraudulent. Unimaginable to what the USL tactics were, there were 7.4 million against the president but a lot of these votes were clear fraud. If you are English, it's harder to understand if you didn't have to deal with the communists like us from 1947 to 1990, and after again.
More people didn't vote and is not only about the suspended president (sounds more accurate than impeached) but about the laws and constitution that was already broken several times; and mostly the Department of Justice, which the guys behind USL are afraid to not end up in jail - after the huge money contracts they made in their benefits and affecting the common workers.
No name supplied
The guy that 'explained' what was all about only chose to obey Basescu blindly. Corruption spans equally across the political class. Michael Hodgson is right.
No minimum turnout is imposed for referendums in major western democracies because of just that: the coward minority could win behind the absents by un-democratic treachery. The British parliament representative for constitutional affairs said that last year when such kind of rule had been proposed in the UK.
Eu - Leva