Romanian opposition urges boycott of impeachment referendum

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Romania's opposition urged its supporters today (24 July) not to vote in Sunday's referendum on whether to impeach suspended President Traian B?sescu, in an effort to keep turnout below 50% and invalidate the results.

B?sescu’s Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) announced that its supporters would boycott the referendum, the Romanian press reported.

PDL President Vasile Blaga called on all Romanians “not to legitimise the masquerade staged by USL”, referring to the Social Liberal Union, a leftist coalition now in power and led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

B?sescu was suspended from office by Parliament on 6 July, pending a nationwide referendum on whether he should be impeached, to be held on 29 July.

Should the 50% turnout threshold is not reached, B?sescu would be re-instated as president.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Romanians are likely to vote to remove B?sescu from office. B?sescu had been Romania’s most popular politician for a decade, but he lost support recently over health system reforms and the austerity measures that were introduced under his watch.

But turnout in Romanian elections usually hovers around 50%, making the outcome uncertain. In 2007, B?sescu won an impeachment referendum despite the participation of less than 40% of eligible Romanians, as there was no turnout requirement at the time. The 50% turnout threshold was introduced in 2008.

B?sescu himself has encouraged Romanians to vote in the impeachment referendum.

“I could not make him change his mind, and I didn’t even try to do that,” Blaga said. He added that by the time B?sescu made those statements, the USL had not yet taken many of its controversial decisions, which the European Commission is now asking Romania to reverse.

Ponta described the referendum boycott as “illegal”, saying the PDL should be subject to a criminal investigation for making this call.

The prime minister said that even if reconfirmed by the referendum result, B?sescu would be “the president of no Romanian at all, he would be a president only to himself, and in no case of Romania”.

The Romanian prime minister added that he would send letters to the EU institutions, telling them that the PDL had cheated on them by asking for support in maintaining the 50% turnout threshold.

One of the first decisions of the Ponta government was to remove the turnout requirement, but the new prime minister had to make a U-turn following strong pressure from the EU executive.

Re-establishing the 50% turnout threshold for the validation of the referendum was on the 11-point to-do list issued by the Commission, which Ponta agreed to observe. 

The European Commission expressed deep worries about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its progress report on judicial reform and the fight against corruption in Romania. 

The 18 July report questioned the country’s ability to comply with the EU’s fundamental principles and the sustainability and irreversibility of reform.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that recent events in Romania had “shaken EU’s trust”.

Barroso had met with Ponta the previous week and presented him with a 11-point to-do list aimed at restoring the status quo following what critics said was an attempted coup d’état and an assault on democratic values.

Ponta reportedly committed to following Brussels’ advice.

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