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Romania's Basescu survives impeachment vote

31 july 2012, 11:52
0
Romanian President Traian Basescu. ©AFP
Romanian President Traian Basescu. ©AFP
Romania's suspended president Traian Basescu survived an impeachment vote due to low turnout, according to provisional figures released by the polling panel, AFP reports.

The central electoral bureau said turnout stood at 45.92 percent, short of the 50 percent threshold needed for the result to be validated by the constitutional court.

Basescu, suspended after a procedure launched by his rivals in the centre-left USL coalition that has been in power for three months, declared that Romanians had voted "for Europe, and for democracy" even as he said he understood the "anger" of the millions who voted to oust him.

An exit poll carried out by private television station Realitates TV showed a crushing majority of voters -- 86.9 percent -- had voted to impeach the president.

The electoral bureau will publish the first official results at 0700 GMT Monday.

The vote marked the culmination of weeks of bitter feuding that left Romania in political limbo and cast doubt over the democratic credentials of the European Union's newest member.

"Romanians have rejected the coup staged by the 256 lawmakers led by (Prime Minister) Victor Ponta and (interim president) Crin Antonescu," Basescu said from his campaign headquarters minutes after polling closed.

"Romanians have decided their fate by invalidating the referendum," he added.

Antonescu pledged that the constitution would be respected in dealing with the result of the impeachment referendum, the second such attempt against Basescu's rule in five years.

But Ponta hinted that Romania's political crisis would continue should the vote result allow Basescu, who was suspended by parliament earlier this month, to cling to his job.

"Any politician who ignores the will of millions of voters is disconnected from reality," he said after voting wrapped up, arguing that Basescu's legitimacy would be undermined.

Pre-referendum opinion polls showed two-thirds of voters would vote in favour of impeaching 60-year-old Basescu, once one of the country's most popular politicians whose job-approval ratings plummeted amid austerity cuts in 2010.

The referendum comes after weeks of contentious moves by the government to manipulate Romania's political institutions, which led to sharp warnings from Brussels and the United States that democracy was being eroded.

Around 18.3 million people were eligible to vote.

To encourage the highest possible turnout, opening hours were extended and a number of additional polling stations set up along the Black Sea coast for holidaymakers and rural populations in a country where voter fatigue is high.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has been gripped by a bitter feud between the conservative president and 39-year-old Ponta's USL coalition, which took power in May and quickly moved to oust Basescu.

The USL put up banners around Bucharest reading, "Go Vote, Impeach Him".

Basescu said last week that he was willing "to govern with the current majority to ensure the country's stability".

In the run-up to the referendum, Ponta's government removed opposition parliamentary speakers, sacked an ombudsman and clipped the powers of the constitutional court.

The European Commission said the moves "raise serious doubts" about Romania's understanding of the rule of law but nevertheless praised efforts to fight graft by the anti-corruption prosecutor's office and other institutions.

The editor of Romania Libera (Free Romania) broadsheet, Dan Turturica, wrote Sunday that failure to respect democratic rules could leave Romania in "a no-man's land ... marginalised in the EU, and shunned by foreign investors."

The first official results are expected Monday.

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