Ruling improves Basescu's chances of eluding impeachment

12/07/2012

A ruling by the Constitutional Court makes it harder for the suspended Romanian president to be removed from his post in a referendum.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 12/07/12

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For the first time since impeachment, suspended President Traian Basescu addressed the public at his campaign headquarters in Bucharest on Wednesday (July 11th). [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]

The Constitutional Court's ruling on Tuesday (July 10th) to overrule an emergency decree issued by the Romanian government makes it likely that suspended President Traian Basescu will keep his job.

The court rejected a decree that would have allowed Basescu to be removed from office with the vote of a simple majority who cast ballots in a national referendum scheduled for July 29th. The decision upheld the law that has a substantially higher standard, permitting removal of the president by a majority of registered voters.

Since it is unlikely that 9 million registered voters will cast votes in the referendum, the court's decision will most probably derail the ruling social-liberal coalition's efforts to impeach the president.

Basescu was impeached on Friday (July 6th) in a 256-114 vote by parliament, which is dominated by the Social Liberal Union of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a Basescu rival. Basescu, who has been president for eight years, is accused of overstepping his authority.

Basescu was also impeached five years ago, but survived a national referendum. His approval ratings now are much lower, however, as the president has been blamed by many for unpopular austerity measures.

Some ministers threatened that the government would organise the referendum according to the provisions of the emergency decree, ignoring the ruling of the Constitutional Court. Two weeks ago, Ponta ignored another court ruling, that Basescu should represent Romania at the European Council.

It would be unwise for Ponta's government to ignore this ruling, analysts said.

"It would be an act of legality on the part of PM Victor Ponta to withdraw the emergency decree following the court's ruling," Septimius Pirvu, deputy director of Pro Democratia, a leading NGO, told SETimes. "The Constitutional Court remains after all one of the country's fundamental institutions and its decisions must be observed by all politicians."

Ponta's government has already drawn international criticism after moving to diminish the court's powers as part of his battle with Basescu. The US Embassy in Bucharest called on the government to act in compliance with Tuesday's ruling, warning "it is unacceptable to conduct a referendum which appears inconsistent with the constitution" because such a move "would knowingly provoke a very dangerous constitutional crisis."

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Ponta has defended a decision to summon the parliament to have its say on the final rules according to which the referendum will be organised, but said he would respect the court's decision, without annulling the emergency decree.

While Basescu begins campaigning for his job, his fate is heavily debated by the citizens.

"I think Mr. Basescu asked for it through his confrontational political behaviour. He may win again, but I see him as a president with faded internal legitimacy in the end," Dorian Margarit, 26, an economist, told SETimes.

Others fear the referendum will not put an end to the political infighting. "That will be just the start, whatever the outcome. Basescu is not the kind of man to easily accept defeat. We are in for a hot and long political fall," Andrei Codrescu, 47, told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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