Romania’s bicameral parliament voted late on July 6 to suspend the country’s president, Traian Basescu, with 256 votes in favour and 114 against.
Following the suspension, the cabinet will organise an impeachment referendum on July 29. A simple majority in favour or against impeachment will be sufficient for the referendum to be considered valid, since a recent legislative change removed the turnout requirement.
The vote to suspend Basescu is only the latest in a long series of confrontations between the president and the ruling coalition, which came to power in May. In recent weeks, the coalition – between the centre-left Social-Democrats and centre-right National-Liberal party – has moved to replace the speakers of the two houses of parliament and curtail the powers of the constitutional court, where Basescu’s appointees have a majority.
These moves have raised concerns in Western European governments and the European Commission, which said earlier on July 6 that it was alarmed by “appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court.”
The Commission said that these moves put at risk progress made in the area of judicial reform and anti-corruption. Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta will visit Brussels on July 12 to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to discuss these issues, the statement said.
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 to its lowest value since redenomination in 2005, breaching the 4.5 lei to one euro psychological barrier.
While Basescu is suspended, senate speaker Crin Antonescu, the leader of the National-Liberal party, will act as interim president. Antonescu is also the presumptive presidential candidate of the ruling coalition at the next presidential elections.
Basescu’s second term expires in 2014, but if he is impeached, new elections will have to be held before the end of the year, possibly at the same time as parliamentary elections due in autumn, when the ruling coalition is expected to win a strong majority.
Basescu was previously the target of an impeachment referendum in 2007, when he won decisively on a platform of fighting corruption. Over the past three years, however, his public approval rating has dived as he and his party’s government had to oversee the implementation of austerity measures as a result of the $25 billion bailout agreed with the International Monetary Fund and the EU.
(Romanian president Traian Basescu. Photo: European Council/flickr.com)