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Power struggle

Keno Verseck / ai
August 22, 2012

Suspended Romanian President Traian Basescu can return to office. The country's highest court has decided that a recent referendum on the question had failed. But the power struggle continues.

A Romanian flag (Photo: Reuters/Radu Sigheti)
Image: Reuters

The debate about Romania's president has gone on for two months. In early July, Traian Basescu was suspended by parliament. Now, he has been allowed by the Constitutional Court to return to the presidential palace. On Tuesday (21.08.2012) the court ruled that the July 29 referendum on Basescu's suspension was invalid due to insufficient turnout. But the power struggle between the government and the head of state has not been laid to rest by this decision - it merely enters the next round.

Romanian Interim President Crin Antonescu and the country's Prime Minister Victor Ponta both said they would accept the court's ruling, but added that the decision was "not fair" and "not correct," and that it "ignored the people's will." Ponta said he had not made a final decision on his future political cooperation with Basescu. Antonescu called on the citizens to publicly protest against the court decision.

Weeks of dispute preceded Tuesday's court ruling with the number of voters who took part in the poll and its validity the main points of contention. According to the Romanian constitution, a president suspended by parliament can only be impeached by a referendum. On July 29, some 87 percent of those who voted, cast their ballots to impeach Basescu, but turnout at the polls was 46 percent - below the required 50 percent.

Victor Ponta (Photo: AP/Vadim Ghirda)
Ponta's attempt to impeach the president did not oust BasescuImage: AP

Asking Brussels for help

The government under Ponta, however, said it had doubts about voter turnout and demanded the number of those eligible to vote be recalculated. Among other issues, up to 3 million Romanians living abroad should be taken out of the total number of those eligible to vote. Allegations also surfaced two weeks ago about plans for large scale vote rigging. The government reportedly wanted to have the deaths of tens of thousands of people fabricated in order to lower the number of those eligible to vote.

Finally, even the Constitutional Court had been involved in a scandal: The court's president, Augusting Zegrean had asked the EU Commission for help over concerns that the court's independence was in danger - a first in the history of the European Union.

Traian Basescu (Photo: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel)
Basescu said he wants to cooperate with the governmentImage: Reuters

The nine judges at the Romanian Constitutional Court are named by and equally represent parties in parliament and the president. Currently, there are tensions within the court between sympathizers of Basescu and those of Ponta.

Power struggle continues

An end to such scandals like the one with the Constitutional Court is not in sight. Ponta on Tuesday called the judges "dishonest." The court had issued an "illegal" decision, he added. Ponta accused a specific judge of being responsible for Basescu returning to office. The judge in question, Aspazia Cojocaru, had leaned toward the side of Ponta but then said she did not want to break a law by legitimizing election fraud.

Ponta was also outspokenly critical of Basescu, calling him an "illegitimate" and "antidemocratic" president. Ponta added that his own government was representing the people. Antonescu was equally explicit: The court had "taunted" the people's will, he said, adding that the government would "fight against the Basescu regime until the end" and "free Romania." He also suggested there would be another attempt to impeach Basescu.

Crin Antonescu (Photo: Reuters)
Antonescu said he would continue fighting BasescuImage: Reuters

The Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) which is close to Basescu, described the court's decision as a "victory for the rule of law." The president himself did not immediately react to the ruling.

Many pundits from the country's media pointed out that Basescu still had to be aware of the fact that some 7.5 million people voted for his impeachment. A few days ago he said that he wanted to work together with the government in a constructive spirit and that Romania had to "learn the mechanism of cohabitation."

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