By Marian Chiriac
Low voter turnout appears to have saved President Traian Basescu from impeachment, preliminary referendum results indicate.
Romania’s Central Electoral Bureau said early on Monday that the voter turnout in the July 29 referendum on the President stood at around 46.13 per cent, short of the 50 per cent threshold needed for the result to be validated by the Constitutional Court.
Out around 8.3 million people who voted, around 87 per cent were in favour of impeaching the President.
“Romanians have rejected the coup staged by lawmakers led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and interim president Crin Antonescu,” Traian Basescu said, shortly minutes after polling closed.
Ponta said he was still waiting for last official results to be announced, but pledged that the constitution would be respected in dealing with the result of the impeachment referendum.
“The main conclusion of this referendum is that Traian Basescu is now illegitimate as so many people are against him. He has to take this situation in consideration,” Ponta said.
The referendum marked the culmination of weeks of political struggle between Basescu and Ponta.
Basescu was Romania’s most popular politician for a decade, but lost support over widely disliked health reforms and austerity measures that were introduced on his watch.
His impeachment has divided the country, with supporters and opponents spending hours engaged in bitter verbal battles in public spaces, on the internet and on television.
Parliament voted on July 6 to suspend Basescu as President for 30 days and established July 29 as the day of a referendum in the next stage of a campaign to impeach him.
Prime Minister Ponta has accused Basescu of blocking government reforms, of abusing his position to grant favours to his allies and of interfering in the judicial system.
Basescu says his adversaries are taking revenge for the corruption conviction this year of former prime minister Adrian Nastase, a senior member of Ponta’s governing coalition.
Basescu accused the government of attempting a “coup d’etat” not just against him but also against the judiciary.
Basescu was previously suspended in 2007 for one month, but returned to power following a popular referendum.
European Union officials have expressed considerable disquiet over recent events in Romania, questioning the Ponta government’s commitment to the rule of law and to democracy.