Romania President Survives the fiddled impeachment vote
Romania’s president Basescu survives impeachment vote
National electoral bureau says just under 46% of voters cast their ballots, and a 50% turnout was required for it to count
Ian Traynor in Zagreb and Roberta Radu in Bucharest and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 July 2012 08.29 BST
The Romanian government’s controversial attempt to unseat the head of state failed as too few people turned out to vote over the impeachment of President Traian Basescu.
The centre-left prime minister, Victor Ponta, has been campaigning to remove the president since coming to power in May, raising questions about democracy and the rule of law in Romania and prompting strong pressure on Ponta from Brussels, Berlin and Washington.
The national electoral bureau said just under 46% of voters had cast their ballots, rendering the plebiscite void because the EU insisted on a turnout of 50% plus for the vote to count. According to television exit polls, more than 80% those who voted supported the impeachment of Basescu, whose austerity policies have made him hugely unpopular.
“I congratulate the millions who voted,” said Ponta, referring to the projected 85% of ballots cast said to support impeaching the president.
Basescu claimed the abstention rate was in his favour. He said: “Romanians have rejected the coup initiated by Victor Ponta. Today, Romanians decided their own fate by invalidating the referendum.”
However, he acknowledged he had lost popular support, and pledged to work towards reconciliation in the country of 19 million which emerged from communism in 1989.
“I assure Romanians that once I return … I will try to generate a sentiment of reconciliation in society,” he said. “It’s clear that Romanians are unhappy about what has happened in recent years. Divisions in society must be stopped, they must be annihilated, because Romania needs all its energy to … integrate into the civilised world.”
The political turmoil has dented Romania’s credibility, with the US and EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government’s respect for the independence of the judiciary.
Ponta has claimed the president was behind an effort to make public a scandal involving allegations that Ponta had plagiarised his 2004 doctoral thesis.
Basescu was accused by his rivals in the government of violating the constitution by overstepping his authority to interfere in the daily running of the country, appointing loyalists to key positions in the justice system and using the secret services against his political rivals.
Basescu claimed his rivals were planning to seize control of the judicial system and EU funds. Romania joined the EU in 2007.
Earlier on Sunday, Florica Grigore, a pensioner, argued for abstention: “I refuse to participate. Basescu should have been allowed to finish his mandate.
“This political situation has been brewing for the past 20 years and it is not helping anyone. Politicians have done nothing but steal from us.”
But most of those who voted wanted rid of the president. Ana Maria Popescu, a 31-year-old nurse who lives in Pitesti, said: “I voted for change in Romania. Traian Basescu has toyed with his own people. He cut our salaries and pensions. The impeachment would be a positive development and the referendum is a first step towards achieving stability. I hope the next stage brings about better days for the economy and Romanian politics.”