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Romanian Government Criticized for Toying With Constitution

Rumania, with looming financial crisis, is drawing criticism for tinkering with the constitution to impeach President Basescu
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 7/10/2012, 5:01 AM

Victor Ponta
Victor Ponta
Reuters

Romania is in the midst of a constitutional crisis that has shaken the national currency, the leu, which is down to record lows against the euro. Considering the battering that the euro itself has taken recently, this says a great deal. .

The crisis was triggered by an impeachment vote against President Traian Basescu. The Romanian Parliament impeached Mr. Basescu and under the Romanian Constitution, his fate is now in the hands of the voters in a referendum.

This is where the fun begins. The government, headed by Victor Ponta, has decided to change the rules of the game. For a president to be impeached in the past, a majority of registered voters had to vote against the president. Ponta decided to push through a new process that requires only a majority of those voting.

The original rule was intended to preserve stability and establish a firewall by making the impeachment process difficult. Mr. Basescu, having presided over austerity and salary cuts, is unpopular - and according to polls, only 27% would stand by him. However, he stood a fighting chance to survive in office under the previous system.

As Romania is part of the European Union, there is concern over both the threat of political instability as well as the prospects that Basescu may be punished for doing the right thing, namely, pushing austerity.

The more left wing Ponta, who has been accused of a populist streak, may seek to loosen the governmental purse string, undoing the hard work of the past 3 years. Another bailout case is the last thing that Europe needs now.

Basescu was impeached for overstepping his powers. In Romania, where the president is responsible for defense and foreign affairs, but not for domestic policy. Basescu tried to bypass the limitation by exploiting his links to the center-right Democrat-Liberal Party when that party governed. Power has since passed to Ponta's Social Liberal Union.

If Basescu is impeached Romania will face presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall fueling apprehension that the competing parties and candidates would veer away from unpopular austerity measures. To head off intervention by the Romanian Constitutional Court Ponta issued an emergency decree barring the constitutional court from intervening in the parliamentary impeachment action.

This measure has drawn criticism from both Germany and the United States. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland . "We are concerned about recent developments occurring in Romania, our NATO ally and partner, which threaten democratic checks and balances and weaken independent institutions, such as the courts. The United States stands with our EU partners and urges Romania to uphold and protect the common values and principles that unite the European and trans-Atlantic community of nations."