August 3, 2012
In a move that promises to prolong Romania's political agony, the Constitutional Court on August 2 delayed ruling that the referendum held in July to impeach the president was invalid because of a low turnout.
The court had been expected to invalidate July 29's referendum after official data showed that while a vast majority of those voting wanted to dismiss the unpopular President Traian Basescu, the turnout did not reach the required threshold of 50% of the electorate. Final results showed 88% of those who voted in the referendum wanted rid of Basescu, unpopular for presiding over austerity and corruption, but just 46% voted.
This meant that Basescu should be free see out his term that ends in 2014. However, the president's political foes, including Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his Social Democratic party-led governing coalition who have led the charge against Basescu, are not giving up, now arguing that the electoral lists were outdated and the number of legitimate voters should be smaller.
"An increasing number of the members of the socialist-liberal alliance state the participation rate was actually about 52%, as the true number of voters is lower than previous considered and that the Constitutional Court should rule according to these recent findings," said analysts at ING.
In a move that has prompted worries about the independence of the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court announced it had postponed its decision on impeachment until September 12. The Court said it wants to review the electoral lists before making a decision.
The continuing crisis being pushed by Ponta's government has prompted the European Commission to again enter the fray. In a statement, it said the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has spoken with Ponta to express the Commission's concerns, and Ponta will go to Brussels next Thursday to meet Commission President José Manuel Barroso to discuss these issues.
"The Commission is concerned about current developments in Romania, especially regarding actions that appear to reduce the effective powers of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court. The rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of the European democracy and indispensable for mutual trust within the European Union. Government policy and political action must respect these principles and values. The Commission already looks at judicial reform and anti-corruption measures in the context of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. It is currently finalising a report summarising five years of work to address these issues in Romania. Recent developments may be putting at risk the progress made over the years," it said.
Nothing of this, of course, helps the country's struggling economy, not least because it casts doubts over whether the government can secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-led aid deal.