Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Vote on presidential impeachment

Daciana Sarbu, wife of Romania's president, leaves a booth after voting in a referendum on whether to impeach her husband Victor Ponta (AP)

Romania's unpopular president is fighting for his political life as the country votes on whether to oust him.

The referendum is part of a political battle which has raised questions about the rule of law in the fledgling European Union member.

Early indications were that he might keep his job due to a low voter turnout.

Traian Basescu's rivals in the government are seeking to push him out for the second time in five years. They claim the 60-year-old populist violated the constitution by meddling in government business, favouring cronies and using the secret services against enemies.

Basescu, a former ship captain whose popularity has plummeted over economic challenges, claims he is the victim of a political vendetta and has urged his supporters to boycott the vote - a tactic which may help him survive thanks to a rule requiring turnout to be more than half of the total electorate.

Three hours before polls were to close, the turnout was just 37.67%, according to the Central Election Bureau. That figure was lower than June local elections when the turnout was about 56%. Some 18 million Romanians were eligible to vote in Sunday's poll, including many living abroad.

Mr Basescu said: "I have done my duty as president in a manner that sometimes pleased people and at other times did not please a large number of Romanians."

Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta, himself the subject of a plagiarism scandal, of orchestrating the move to oust Mr Basescu as part of a power grab

The political turmoil has dented Romania's credibility with the United States and European Union expressing doubts about the left-leaning government's respect for the independence of the judiciary.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, last week issued a stern statement expressing "serious concerns about recent political events in Romania in relation to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the role of the Constitutional Court".

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