Romanian president steps down ahead of impeachment referendum
Romania’s president has officially handed back his powers after the constitutional court confirmed his suspension in a political crisis that has sparked international concern over the health of Romanian democracy.
President Traian Basescu’s decision to step down paves the way for impeachment on charges of exceeding his powers and breaching the constitution. Romania is expected to hold a referendum on his impeachment on 29 July.
In an announcement yesterday, the court said the president’s suspension conformed to the constitution. It also confirmed Crin Antonescu, current speaker of the upper house of parliament, as acting president.
Mr Basescu, 60, has denied any wrongdoing and accused his arch rival Victor Ponta, the prime minister, of orchestrating a political plot against him as part of a campaign to concentrate power in the hands of the government.
In recent weeks the prime minister has also questioned the impartiality of some constitutional court judges, and his Social Liberal Union party has replaced the speakers of both the upper and lower houses with party members
The president’s swift removal from office and allegations of the government usurping power has led to the involvement of international bodies.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokeswoman for the European Commission, said that the EU executive’s president Jose Manuel Barroso would meet Mr Ponta on Thursday in Brussels to discuss the latest developments.
She said: “We remain concerned about the speed and the consequences of decisions taken in recent weeks, and we have many questions regarding the respect for the independence of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary.”
Germany has also weighed into Romanian affairs, with Angela Merkel telephoning Mr Ponta to warn of him “consequences” over his actions.
Steffen Seibert, the German chancellor’s spokesman, said: “The federal chancellor believes it is unacceptable when a European Union country infringes the fundamental principles of the rule of law.
“The European Union is based on common values: all governments must stick to these. This goes for the Romanian government as well.”
But while the political upheaval has unsettled many Romanians and placed further pressure on the country’s fragile economy, political experts pointed out that so far all constitutional norms have been followed, and that Mr Basescu’s willingness to step down indicates the strength of political institutions rather than any weakness.
While the constitutional court also upheld a new law that required any impeachment referendum to have only a majority of voters as opposed to a majority of the electorate for a decision, the court also stuck a spanner in the government works by requiring a 51 per cent turnout if the result is to be valid.
This could give throw Mr Basescu a lifeline, but he still faces an uphill struggle to survive.
His popularity rating – ruined by his support for unpopular austerity measures – has sunk to 17 per cent, and polls show that 64.3 per cent of Romanians will vote to impeach him come the referendum. The president, who was elected in 2004, was saved from impeachment in 2007 by a referendum but this time his chances of survival appear slim.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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