Romania’s constitutional court decided on August 2 to delay a ruling on the validity of the referendum to impeach president Traian Basescu to September 12 in order to allow a verification of the voters’ lists.
A total 8.46 million Romanians voted on July 29 in the plebiscite called by parliament to impeach Basescu, with about 87.5 per cent voting in favour of impeachment. But with turnout estimated at about 46.2 per cent of registered voters, the constitutional court was expected to invalidate the referendum, which required 50 per cent turnout to be considered valid.
Instead, the government coalition that initiated Basescu’s suspension in early July argued that Romania’s adult population was lower than the 18.29 million in the voters list, which is based on census data from 2001. Data from Romania’s census in 2011 is yet to be finalised.
As a result of the court’s decision, Basescu will remain suspended until the court issues a ruling, while Crin Antonescu – the former speaker of the upper house of parliament – will continue as interim president.
Antonescu’s party, the National-Liberals, have already said that should the constitutional court invalidate the referendum, a new plebiscite should be held.
The delay will further extend the political crisis in Romania, where the cabinet and ruling majority in parliament are at odds with Basescu. The coalition between the leftist Social-Democrats and centre-right National-Liberals hoped to oust Basescu and hold snap elections at the same time with scheduled parliamentary elections in autumn, where the parties are expected to win a decisive majority of seats.
Basescu, who has two years left on his second term, had asked his supporters not to vote in the referendum – his approval ratings have taken a strong hit in the past three years because of the austerity measures implemented by Basescu’s political allies in government.
After two separate cabinets headed by allies of Basescu were taken down by successful votes of no confidence in February and May, he handed the government mandate to erstwhile opposition leader, Social-Democra Victor Ponta, but relations quickly devolved into an institutional stand-off between the presidency on one side and parliament and cabinet on the other.
Basescu, who survived an impeachment referendum in 2007 on a platform of fighting against corruption, this time focused on painting himself as a defender of the rule of law, arguing that parliament breached several of its own rules in its haste to suspend him.
(Romania’s suspended president Traian Basescu. Photo: European Council/flickr.com)