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Inside Story
Is Romania's referendum democratic?
As Romanians decide on the impeachment of their president, we ask what the move really means to the country's democracy.
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2012 08:21

Earlier this month the European Commission released a report criticising Romania for failing to root out corruption and political influence in its state institutions.

It also highlighted the power struggle between Victor Ponta, the Romanian prime minister, and Trian Basescu, the president.

"The referendum is not really about Basescu, it's about democracy and the rule of law which were suspended in Romania in the past month …[based on the constitutional court's ruling] the president didn't violate the constitution."

- Monica Luisa Macovei, a member of the European parliament

Political challenges to judicial decisions, the undermining of the constitutional court, the overturning of established procedures and the removal of key checks and balances have called into question the government's commitment to respect the rule of law.

On Sunday Romanians voted on whether or not to impeach their president, who has already been suspended by parliament. The referendum was held after a government campaign led by Ponta.

The international community has criticised the decision.

Romania's opposition accuses Basescu of exceeding his authority, with Ponta saying that the president had no right to announce austerity measures.

Basescu, whose popularity plummeted after he backed austerity measures, denies the allegations and called for a boycott to the referendum.

"A political fracture already exists for several years now and Basescu is in his eighth year as president … he didn't fulfill his mandate as a real mediator within society between the different institutions and political actors."

- Titus Corlatean, the Romanian justice minister

Polls showed that around 65 per cent want the president impeached, which would require elections to be held within three months.

But on Monday Basescu announced that voters had "rejected a coup" based on a low voter turnout of about 46 per cent.

Voter turnout must reach 50 per cent to validate the result of the referendum.

In this episode of Inside Story we ask: Is this referendum to impeach the president a good indicator of the state of democracy in Romania?

And is it the beginning of the end for Traian Basescu, or will he survive, as he has done before?

Joining the discussion with presenter Dareen Abughaida are guests: Monica Luisa Macovei, a former Romanian justice minister and a member of the European parliament; Razvan Ionescu, a journalist and political analyst; and Titus Corlatean, the serving Romanian justice minister and a member of the Social Democratic Party.

"Victor Ponta has two kinds of speeches, one here in Romania and another when he's speaking with international leaders ... Ponta and his partners organised the referendum because they felt that most Romanians are against Basescu due to the austerity measures."

Razvan Ionescu, a journalist and political analyst


ROMANIA'S ECONOMY:

  • The Romanian president survived an impeachment referendum five years ago. But this his time the situation seems different, with austerity measures and scandals that have dented his popularity. Before the global economic recession, Romania enjoyed almost a decade of steady growth.
     
  • In 2009, Romania's GDP fell by more than seven per cent, prompting the government to ask for an emergency loan from international lenders.
     
  • In 2010, with Romania on the verge of bankruptcy, the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the World Bank granted it a loan of almost $25bn. Drastic austerity measures were part of the bailout conditions. That year the GDP declined by one point to nine per cent.
     
  • Last year saw Romania's return to growth with the GDP up by nearly two per cent in the third quarter, the highest quarterly figure in the EU.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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