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Romanian prime minister reshuffles cabinet as crisis brews

In Romania the justice, foreign and three other ministers have been replaced in a major cabinet reshuffle. This is the latest twist to the country’s crippling power struggle.

The cabinet reshuffle came just hours after the resignation of Interior Minister Ioan Rus. He had cited "unacceptable" pressure over his ministry's organization of an impeachment referendum.

"I have submitted my resignation for my own honour," said Rus, a member of Prime Minister Victor Ponta's centre-left coalition.

The resignation and following reshuffle by the prime minister were the fall-out of a failed referendum to oust the center-right President Traian Basescu on July 29.

That referendum had been brought by Prime Minister Victor Ponta's leftist Social Liberal Union (USL). And it would have been successful if more than fifty percent of the Romanian electorate had cast their ballot.

A clear majority of those who did, 86 percent, voted to impeach Basescu. But voter turnout failed to reach the required 50 percent threshold.

Basescu and his supporters were jubilant, Ponta and his camp were distraught.

Then the numbers were challenged. Supporters of the prime minister claimed the electoral lists which were the basis for the referendum had been inaccurate.

According to the Interior Ministy, 18.2 million Romanians were eligible to vote. The number of votes cast in the impeachment referendum came to only 46.24 percent of that and therefore too little to validate the result.

The USL claimed that the voter lists had not been updated and included people who had died or moved away, which had raised the number of eligible voters by two million.

The interior ministry denied the allegations and said the lists were up to date as of July 10.

The Constitutional Court is since deliberating on whether to validate the referendum, saying that this was a difficult call as there was “contradictory data from state institutions.”

Meanwhile Ponta's ally Crin Antonescu, who took over as interim president after Basescu was suspended last month, will remain interim president until the court decides.

A political power struggle

Basescu was removed from his post following a move by the leftist coalition who claimed that he had overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the judicial system.

Critics in turn accused Prime Minister Victor Ponta of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab.

The power struggle in the Eastern European country started in May when Victor Ponta came to power and quickly moved to make changes to the country's political institutions, removing opposition parliamentary speakers and clipping the powers of the constitutional court.

This led to sharp warnings from Brussels and the United States that democracy was being eroded.

The power struggle in one of the European Union's most recent members has stalled policymaking and has plunged currency, the Leu, to record lows.

This in turn has raised international concern whether the country would be able to pay back its International Monetary Fund loans.

rg/sej (AFP, dpa)

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