Romanian court delays decision on impeachment

August 2, 2012 - 3:38 PM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's Constitutional Court said Thursday that it is delaying until September a decision on the validity of a referendum on impeaching the president, a move that will prolong the country's political crisis.

The court's decision to postpone a decision on President Traian Basescu's impeachment until Sept. 12 is the latest move in a bitter power struggle between a left-wing government and the populist center-right president. The conflict has sparked concerns about democracy in the young European Union member and Thursday's announcement sent the currency, the leu, to an all-time low.

Romanians voted in a referendum on Sunday on whether to impeach President Traian Basescu, who is widely disliked for austerity measures and getting more involved in the judicial system than his mandate as president allows. Though 88 percent voted to oust him, officials at first indicated the referendum would be invalidated because voter turnout did not reach a required 50 percent.

But the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, which has been trying to remove Basescu from office, now suggests the 50 percent threshold might actually have been met. It says the electorate is actually much smaller than official statistics show, citing preliminary data from a 2011 census indicating the population has shrunk to about 19 million from 22 million in the past decade due to a low birth rate and emigration.

The implication made by the government is that if the population is 19 million, voter turnout would likely have reached 50 percent, meaning Basescu should be impeached.

There was no immediate reaction to the court's delay from Basescu, who was suspended by parliament ahead of the impeachment referendum on allegations he committed "serious violations" of the constitution.

Basescu, a charismatic and sometimes confrontational figure, saw his political fortunes decline when his political foe Victor Ponta became the prime minister on May 7 and then pushed for impeachment.

The European Union has criticized Ponta's attempt to drive Basescu from power, saying the methods he has used are not fully democratic.

The ruling coalition repeated its calls for Basescu to resign to end the political crisis and praised the court's decision.

"Romania is a real democratic country, a country where there is the rule of law, where people can think with optimism and hope about the future," Interim President Crin Antonescu, also a rival of Basescu's, said in reaction to the court's decision to delay its ruling.