Romania’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday struck down a referendum to impeach President Traian Basescu, foiling a drive by the leftist government to oust its chief political opponent months before a parliamentary election. The government said it would accept the decision, but the acting president said Basescu was now an “illegitimate” leader. Several hundred people gathered in two main Bucharest squares in the afternoon, one crowd supporting the president and the other protesting against him. Both remained peaceful.
Two decades after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the battle pitting Basescu against Prime Minister Victor Ponta has raised rule-of-law issues and could flare again in coming months as one of the European Union’s poorest states faces tough austerity demands from international lenders. The court, as expected, ruled that the July 29 referendum called by the government to remove Basescu, a right-wing political veteran, was invalid because turnout fell short of the required 50 percent of the 18.3 million electorate.
“We stated that the referendum quorum condition was not met,” Chief Judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters. He said Basescu, suspended by parliament before the referendum which was needed to confirm the impeachment, could now return to power. The crisis has crippled policymaking, pushed the leu to record lows last month and angered the EU, which accused Ponta of undermining democracy and intimidating judges in a country long criticised for graft and a weak judicial system.