Romanian court voids referendum


Romania's constitutional court today struck down a referendum to impeach president Traian Basescu, foiling a drive by the country's leftist government to oust its chief political opponent just months before a parliamentary election.

The government said it would accept the decision but the acting president said Mr Basescu was now an "illegitimate" leader.

Two decades after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the battle pitting Basescu against prime minister Victor Ponta has raised rule-of-law issues and could flare again in coming months as one of the European Union's poorest states faces tough austerity demands from international lenders.

The court, as expected, ruled that a July 29th referendum called by the government to remove the political veteran Mr Basescu was invalid because turnout fell short of the required 50 per cent of the 18.3 million electorate.

"We stated that the referendum quorum condition was not met," chief judge Augustin Zegrean told reporters. He said Mr Basescu, suspended by parliament before the referendum which was needed to confirm the impeachment, could now return to power.

The crisis has crippled policymaking, depressed the leu currency to record lows last month and angered the EU, which accused Ponta of undermining democracy and intimidating judges in the country long been criticised for graft and weak justice.

It shed light on weaknesses in Romania's institutional set- up, a wider problem in former communist EU member states as shown in Hungary earlier this year where prime minister Viktor Orban clashed with the EU over constitutional changes.

Mr Basescu could return to office within days, pending rubber-stamping of the court decision by parliament, possibly on Thursday. The right-wing president's term expires in 2014.

Ponta said he would respect and implement the ruling. "I want to send a signal of stability to Romanians: The court decision will be respected and implemented," the premier told a news conference.

His government had maintained that the referendum should stand based on updated electoral lists that stripped out voters who live abroad or have died.