Romania opposition calls for referendum boycott as polls show Basescu losing

By bne IntelliNews July 25, 2012

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With polls showing Romanian President Traian Basescu will struggle to win a July 29 referendum on his impeachment, his supporters are urging the public not to vote, with a turnout below 50% invalidating the result.

The Romanian parliament, led by the current coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats and the centre-right National Liberals that took over in April, voted earlier this month to suspend Basescu, accusing him of violating the country's constitution and overstepping his authority. That set the stage for an impeachment referendum on July 29. If it is passed, presidential elections will follow.

The EU has blasted the government, forcing it to back down over a series of measures that would make it easier to remove Basescu. To increase the chances of defeating Basescu, Prime Minister Victor Ponta's coalition had passed a law lowering the bar for removing the president to a simple majority. However, the Constitutional Court struck that down, bringing back the threshold which states that at least 50% of the electorate plus one voter is needed to take part. Hence, the effort by Basescu supporters to make sure less than half of Romania's 18.3m voters cast their ballots.

Ponta and his allies in the parliament received a boost on July 24 to their chances of securing the necessary turnout, when the Constitutional Court approved a government plan to extend voting time by four hours. Polling stations will now be open 07:00-23:00, newswires report. Should Basescu lose his post in the vote, he would struggle to return to the presidency in the new vote given the austerity measures and corruption scandals that have occurred on his watch.

Overall, 61% of voters said they would vote 'yes' in the impeachment referendum, according to an opinion poll - conducted at the request of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) - by Benenson Strategy Group and Strategic Campaigns International. "Our poll shows that 61% would vote 'yes', 30% would vote 'no', while 9% said [they are] undecided or refused to say how they would vote. Affirmative vote tendency for Basescu's dismissal is strong among both men and women, in every region of the country," said the PSD in a release reported by AGERPRES on July 24.

Basescu said in a TV interview: "They called the electorate to the polls, they should prove that their decision to suspend me is the correct one." Basescu claims that the move is little more than a government "coup d'etat," something many in Brussels tend to agree with.

EU officials have been reported to be "flabbergasted" at Ponta's actions. In a July report on Romania's judicial progress since joining the EU in 2007, in unusually strong language, the European Commission spoke of "serious concerns about the respect of fundamental principles," noting that important questions are being raised over the country's respect for rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

Some see the Basescu's anti-corruption efforts as the real target driving the government's actions. Several of Ponta's deputies are already facing investigation, and the recent convictions of ex-Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and other senior figures indicates that prosecutors are willing to go to the very top.

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