Romanian parliament moves to impeach president

Romania’s ruling coalition tabled on July 4 a motion to suspend president Traian Basescu and was expected to hold a vote by the end of the week. If the motion is successful, it will trigger an impeachment referendum that will have to be held within 30 days.

The move is just the latest in the long war waged between Basescu and the ruling Social-Liberal Union – the alliance of the centre-left Social-Democrats and centre-right National-Liberal party. Over the past eight years, both parties have been at different times government coalition partners with Basescu’s Democrat-Liberals, only for relations to sour, largely due to Basescu’s impetuous political discourse and desire to control the government’s agenda.

The current row is further complicated by the cabinet’s decision to pass amendments that removed the constitutional court’s ability to rule on parliamentary motions (in Romania’s legal system, the cabinet has legislative power, with parliament required to either accept the cabinet’s law or reject it via a motion of no confidence in the government).

The cabinet also passed a law that would make impeaching Basescu easier, requiring a simple majority of those who voted in the referendum for it to pass, rather than a majority of registered voters, regardless of whether they cast ballots. The constitutional court is yet to rule on this law.

Romania’s constitutional court judges have accused the ruling coalition of attempting to undermine the court’s independence. The cabinet reportedly considered replacing constitutional court judges but later abandoned such plans, according to reports in Romanian media.

The ruling coalition said that it has forwarded its motion to suspend Basescu to the constitutional court, which has only a consultative say on the matter and must issue a ruling within 24 hours, Romanian TV station Realitatea reported. If the motion passes, the ruling coalition would seek to hold the impeachment referendum between July 15 and July 22, the station quoted a prominent National-Liberal MP as saying.

As a prelude to the motion, in recent days the ruling coalition has successfully replaced the speakers of the bi-cameral parliament, which were previously held by members of Basescu’s Democrat-Liberal party.

In another related episode, prime minister Victor Ponta, who took office in May, came under renewed calls to resign after a local newspaper reported that he had lied in claiming he received a master’s degree in law from an Italian university.

Last month, Ponta was also the target of allegations that he plagiarised extensively in his doctoral thesis. Ponta has denied the allegations, saying that while he might have breached certain quoting conventions, he had clearly identified his academic sources. He said the accusations were just another salvo from Basescu’s camp in their ongoing feud.

The row has hogged the limelight in recent weeks and effectively paralysed policy-making. The uncertainty has also pushed the exchange rate of the Romanian currency, the leu, against the euro, daily Evenimentul Zilei reported.

Romania is scheduled to hold parliamentary and local elections later this year, with the Social-Liberal Union expected to win heavily against the Democrat-Liberals, the party that oversaw the implementation of austerity measures imposed by the terms of the 2009 bailout agreement agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Basescu has previously survived one impeachment referendum in 2007, which failed with only 25 per cent of the voters in favour. Since then, however, Basescu’s approval ratings have progressively declined, even if he did win re-election for a second five-year term in a close race in 2009.

(Romanian President Traian Basescu photo by Council of the European Union)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.