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Power struggle

July 5, 2012

The opposition is talking of a coup as the power struggle in Romania intensifies. Now the government has started proceedings to get rid of the president.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

On Tuesday, the presidents of both houses of the Romanian parliament were sacked. In two extraordinary sessions called at short notice, the social-liberal majority voted to remove the president of the senate, Vasile Blaga and the president of the assembly, Roberta Anastase, as well as the national ombudsman, Georghe Iancu. The two presidents are members of the opposition liberal democrat PDL, and all three were replaced by supporters of the governing USL coalition, made up of the social democratic PSD and the national liberal PNL.

The government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta (PSD) also passed an emergency decree restricting the rights of the constitutional court to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by parliament. Among the effects of that will be to prevent the court from blocking any suspension of the president.

So far, the climax of the power struggle between Ponta and President Traian Basescu was the initiation of proceedings on Wednesday by the coalition to force Basescu out of office.

'Defective democracy'

Blaga described the vote as illegal. He and Anastase were the only PDL politicians still in office after Ponta came into power. President Basescu condemned the action as "an attack on the institutions of state." The opposition used terms like "coup" and "putsch."

The moves have also been criticized internationally. The US ambassador in Bucharest, Mark Gitenstein, said democracy and justice were at risk, and the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, made similar comments. Gunther Krichbaum, chair of the German parliament's European affairs committee, says he's worried about the rule of law in Romania.

a placard saying Wanted Traian Basescu
The government is out to get BasescuImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Every state is called upon to run its own internal affairs," he told DW. "But Romania is a member of the EU and has committed itself to share European values, which include democracy and the rule of law." The current reconstruction of the institutions of state "gives the increasing impression that we are dealing with a directed, if not to say defective democracy. That can't be a matter of indifference for Europe."

Worse than Hungary

Krichbaum wants the EU to take action. "I shall call on the EU Commission to consider whether it shouldn't start proceedings over violations of the EU treaties. The EU has a range of measures it can take, right up to the withdrawal of voting rights."

Krichbaum notes that the EU had rightly taken action over Hungary's questionably democratic actions, but he says what's going on in Romania now is much worse.

Observers think that two current scandals affecting the social democrats may lie behind the latest moves. A few days ago, the former prime minister, Adrian Nastase, tried to commit suicide after he'd been sentenced by the Supreme Court to two years in prison over illegal party financing. At the same time, the current prime minister has been fighting accusations of plagiarism over his doctorate. He's said to have plagiarized more than half his thesis.

An ambulance carrying Nastase after he attempted suicide
Nastase attempted suicide after being sentenced for illegal party financingImage: Reuters

A bizarre twist to the story is that Ponta wrote his thesis while he was a secretary of state in Nastase's government - and Nastase was his thesis supervisor.

Ponta rejects the accusations and describes them as a "political maneuver" by the opposition. He blames them on his main rival, President Basescu.

Now, it's feared, he could be trying to bring the justice system into line, to protect his own position.

EU must get involved

Susanne Kastner, a social democrat member of the German parliament, says this is completely unacceptable. "We must have an independent judiciary in a European country," she told DW. "The USL coalition would be well advised to keep to this rule - anything else would be a move in a direction which I personally could not approve of."

According to the Romanian constitution, the head of state can be suspended by parliament if he has committed "serious offences" against the constitution. Thereupon the voters have to decide in a referendum to be held within 30 days whether he should be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the new senate president, Crin Antonescu of the PNL, would be acting president, with all the president's powers. Those powers include the right to issue pardons - for example to the former Prime Minister Nastase.

Author: Eliona Xhani, Zoran Arbutina / mll
Editor: Martin Kuebler