Romania impeachment vote could seal country’s future


Romania’s centre right president Traian Basescu on Sunday faces an impeachment vote that could seal the future of one of the newest members of the European Union as a continental pariah.
Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, his centre-left rival, have been locked for three weeks in a fight to the finish, sparking one of Romania’s worst crises since the toppling of the communist regime in December 1989. The move to impeach the 61-year-old president has seen opposition speakers being removed and limits set on the powers of the constitutional court, drawing unprecedented criticism from the European Union and the United States.
Ponta is allied to the Liberal Party (PNL) whose leader Crin Antonescu has become interim president after Basescu’s suspension. Recent developments in Romania “raise serious doubts about … the understanding of the meaning of the rule of law in a pluralist democratic system,” the European Commission said last week, calling the government to respect democratic values.
Since then, Ponta has given guarantees to the EU over the rule of law and says he will “assume responsibility for putting them into practice”.
Sunday’s vote could spell the end of the political career of Basescu, once one of Romania’s most popular politicians, who has seen his ratings plummet amid austerity cuts in 2010.
Opinion polls show that two out of three Romanians would now vote for his ouster.
However the referendum will only be valid if more than 50 percent of the 18.3 million registered voters turn out, a threshold which seems out of reach in a country where voter fatigue is high.
In addition, some three million Romanians have emigrated over the last few years, sociologists say, adding that they could be relecutant to vote.
Basescu, in power since 2004, has decided to use a controversial trump card: encouraging abstention to complete his second five-year term.
His Liberal Democrat allies have urged a boycott of the referendum, which they brand a “masquerade”, claiming the the prime minister’s Social Liberal Union (USL) was planning to rig the vote.