- referendum - Romania
Romanian president survives referendum
Romanian President Traian Basescu was set to keep his job Monday after officials ruled a referendum on whether to impeach him invalid due to low turnout. Basescu did acknowledge his unpopularity and the "anger" of those who voted against him.
AFP - Romanian President Traian Basescu escaped impeachment Monday when a referendum on his removal from office fell short of the 50 percent turnout threshold, despite a resounding vote for his dismissal.
His arch rival Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has led efforts to push Basescu from office, warned he would refuse to work with Basescu, arguing that he had lost all legitimacy.
Basescu said voters had "thwarted a coup" by shunning polling stations but acknowledged the "anger" of the millions who did turn out to oust him after eight years in office.
Official results showed that 87.55 percent of those who took part in Sunday's referendum had voted in favour of Basescu's impeachment, while only 11.12 percent of voters had rallied to the president's cause.
But, according to the returns from more than 97 percent of polling stations, turnout reached 46.13 percent – short of the 50 percent threshold needed for the result to be validated by the constitutional court.
The referendum marked the culmination of weeks of political feuding that saw Brussels and Washington scold the government over its bid to unseat Basescu and voice doubt over the democratic credentials of the EU's newest member.
Even before the publication of the official results, Basescu had declared victory in his efforts to survive a second impeachment attempt in five years.
Basescu, of the centre-right PDL party, said that Romanians had voted "for Europe, and for democracy".
Commentators warned however that the crisis could drag on as a fresh electoral clash loomed with legislative polls slated for October.
"He will remain at Cotroceni (the presidential palace) but he will no longer have legitimacy," Ponta said.
"What can we do? We must defend Romanians who voted for the impeachment."
Asked if he would negotiate with Basescu, who has signalled that he would be willing to cooperate with the government, Ponta said: "What's there to discuss with a man who has been rejected by Romanians?"
The 60-year-old Basescu was one of the country's most popular politicians but his 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 Ziarul financiar newspaper also warned Monday that a prolonged standoff could further undermine one of Europe's poorest countries on the eve of an evaluation mission by the EU and International Monetary Fund.
Romania's currency, the leu, already shed 7 percent in recent weeks to reach an all-time low.