(EurActiv) — Romania’s parliament ended a dramatic session yesterday (27 August) by accepting a Constitutional Court ruling to return the country’s embattled president to office. With the publication of the decision in the country’s official journal, Traian Băsescu can now return to office after a 52-day suspension.
Băsescu, who was suspended by the centre-left Social Liberal Union (USL) majority led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, is expected to return today to his office in the presidential palace Cotroceni.
The Romanian press quoted Băsescu as saying that all confidential documents left there had been locked and sealed, and that Crin Antonescu, the leader of the liberal PNL party and the number two in the USL coalition who acted as interim president, had no access to them.
A dramatic sitting
Under Romanian law, the Parliament had to validate the decision of the Constitutional Court, which last week ruled that the referendum held on 29 July to remove the president from office was invalid because fewer than half of registered voters went to the polls.
As parliament began to assembly in the early afternoon, members of the PNL group set out to boycott the session to prevent a quorum – at least 217 members. Antonescu announced that he was not going to participate, and headed for a holiday in Italy.
The Social Democrats, whose leader is Ponta, received SMS messages around 16:30 requesting them to attend the sitting. In the meantime, MPs from Băsescu’s own Democratic Liberals (PDL) argued that there was no need of a quorum for the reading of the Constitutional Court decision.
At 17:10 the quorum was met, with 238 MPs present, 21 more than the required. At this time, it was reported that Ponta phoned Antonescu in Italy and required him to send his group to parliament as well.
Minutes later, MP Ioan Ghişe (PNL) sought to postpone the session for two days, a request that was rejected, clearing the way for the reading of the court decision.
In the embattled atmosphere, MP Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu (PNL), a former prime minister, argued that the court’s ruling disregarded the opinion of the majority of Romanians, whom he said want Băsescu to be ousted from office. But Parliament ultimately recognised the ruling and by 18:10, with parliamentary speaker Valeriu Zgonea later telling journalists that the legislature could not interfere with a court decision, Reuters reported.
The president was restored to office effective with the publication of the decision shortly after 21:00.
Băsescu’s return to office will allow him to delay legislation and appoint the prime minister after the next election. That could put him in a powerful position if Ponta’s USL coalition fails to win an outright parliamentary majority in elections due before the end of the year.
Analysts said the political battle reflected a broader struggle for power and control of the judicial system in a country where corruption is rampant and 19 members of parliament from Ponta’s alliance are under investigation. The leu currency has recovered some ground from all-time lows hit during the failed impeachment process, but is still weaker than its regional peers. The widespread international criticism also raised doubts over Romania’s €5 billion International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.