By Paul Ciocoiu
The political fate of impeached Romanian President Traian Basescu rests in the hands of more than 18 million registered voters who are eligible to cast votes on Sunday (July 29th) as to whether he should be cast out of office.
Basescu hopes many of them stay home.
The two-term president was impeached by parliament July 6th in a vote orchestrated by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the ruling social-liberal coalition (USL), throwing Romania into a political crisis and drawing concern in the international community.
Basescu is accused of overstepping his authority as part of his feud with Ponta, who was leader of the opposition party before becoming Romania’s third prime minister this year. The USL also blames Basescu for austerity measures that were enacted by the previous government led by Emil Boc, Basescu’s political ally.
To ensure Basescu’s defeat, Ponta unsuccessfully sought to curb the powers of the Constitutional Court and to pass an emergency decree to lower the standard for Sunday’s impeachment vote. Basescu can only be thrown out of office by a majority of all registered voters – about 9.1 million. Ponta had sought to make the standard a simple majority of voters who participate in the referendum.
Both the EU and the United States sharply criticised Ponta and the USL for their actions against Basescu, which are being widely regarded as attacks against rule of law and democracy.
Basescu’s democrat-liberals are asking voters to boycott the referendum to ensure the impeachment charge is invalidated. “It’s not Basescu’s chair that is important, but re-establishing the Romanian state’s functionality,” Basescu said.
Ponta, in an essay published Friday on www.foreignpolicy.com, admitted to making mistakes while pursuing impeachment charges and while miscommunicating in international circles. But he said the impeachment proceeding is a “textbook example of democracy in action.”
“Basescu’s call for a boycott is an anti-democratic step designed to avoid impeachment at all costs,” he said.
Romanians are divided over the referendum. “I will stay home … not necessarily because I want to help Basescu, but because I am fed up with all this political bickering which has been a constant deplorable show over the last 22 years. This struggle has no stake for me,” Daniel Rates, a 38-year-old engineer, told SETimes.
But analysts have doubts that the referendum will put an end to the political battle. “This political crisis is way too ample to end on Sunday. The best the referendum can do is attenuate it,” Alexandru Radu, a political science professor at the Bucharest University, told SETimes.
“There are two working scenarios for the post-referendum period: Basescu is impeached and USL gains more power and legitimacy, and that will somehow bring a smoother political climate. Second, Basescu wins and the two resume the struggle with renewed forces. In any case, we will not see the end of this political confrontation before the parliamentary elections this fall,” Radu added.
For the ruling social-liberal coalition, things are clear enough.
“If Basescu is impeached, we will return to normality and the state institutions will function. If he returns to office, then the government will keep being prevented from doing its job. And it is Romania that will lose,” Eugen Nicolaescu, a USL MP, told SETimes.