A decision by the Constitutional Court to delay a much-awaited verdict on last Sunday's referendum amplifies the political crisis.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 03/08/12
Romania's Constitutional Court extended the suspension of Traian Basescu. [Reuters]
Romania's highest court delayed on Thursday (August 2nd) a ruling on the validity of a national referendum on President Traian Basescu's impeachment after the government unexpectedly said it could not guarantee the accuracy of the nation's voting lists.
The ruling threw Romania into renewed crisis, sending the national currency to a new low against the euro, casting doubt on the validity of this summer's local elections and reviving fears that the nation will suffer from the political struggle between Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
"This is the worst decision the court could have taken, creating a logically unsustainable situation," Laura Stefan, a justice expert with the think-tank Expert Forum, told SETimes. "The decision made yesterday throws a lot of things in doubt and [creates] a state of instability, which can only do a lot of harm to Romania."
The judges were expected to invalidate Basescu's July 6th impeachment by the parliament. The law specifies that the president can only be removed from office if impeachment is approved by at least 50% of Romania's voters.
The Central Electoral Bureau had said that only 46% of the nation's 18.2 million registered voters went to the polls in the referendum, falling short of the legal standard. About 87% of them voted to cast Basescu from office.
But on Wednesday, the interior ministry announced that it cannot guarantee the accuracy of the voting list. The Constitutional Court ordered the government to provide updated lists by the end of the month and said it would postpone its verdict until September 12th.
A Ponta ally, Crin Antonescu, will continue as interim president. "We think this is a correct decision," Ponta said after the court’s ruling.
Cristian Preda, a Euro-lawmaker and a member of Basescu's Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL), disagreed. "Nowhere in the world are the electoral lists established after the polls. It is obvious the government was after creating a crisis by sending contradictory data to the Constitutional Court," Preda told SETimes.
Judge Aspazia Cojocaru raised the prospect of a new referendum on Basescu's impeachment. "If you ask me, I would annul the referendum because it was held on the basis of fake data," he told reporters.
The revised lists would be created by Romania's mayors. Most of them represent the USL and are loyal to Ponta, who has been feuding with Basescu since becoming prime minister in May. Ponta led the impeachment in parliament, accusing Basescu of overstepping his legal authority and turning Romania into a de facto presidential regime.
The USL's maneuvering to push Basescu from power has raised alarms in the EU, which has questioned the government's commitment to democracy. The USL replaced the speakers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies -- both allies of Basescu -- and attempted to change the constitution to allow Basescu to be removed by a simple majority of votes cast in the referendum.
Preda said the decision may have serious implications for Romania.
"Both the referendum and the local elections were held starting from a figure of 18.2 million voters. To bring everything into discussion now means delegitimising the local elections, too," he said. As concerns the prolonged political instability, "it will probably lead to a sensible decrease of the living standards."
Amid the ongoing crisis, the Romanian currency hits new record lows against the euro. "An attenuation of the tense internal political situation would help us very much," Mugur Isarescu, the governor of Romania's National Bank, said in response to the currency's plunge.
The court also left many Romanians with a bitter taste.
"What I feared the most is now happening -- an irrational political battle," Ovidiu Scarlat, a 38-year-old librarian, told SETimes. "The court's decision shows what is typical to this immature democracy, that we cannot make crucial decisions when we have to. As concerns the politicians, they just do not know how to lose."