Romanian MPs move to impeach president

Fri, Jul 6, 2012, 01:00

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT Traian Basescu faces an impeachment vote in parliament today, in the latest round of a fierce power struggle with prime minister Victor Ponta that has alarmed the European Union and United States and fuelled fears for the country’s democracy.

Deputies loyal to Mr Ponta’s two-month-old, left-leaning government yesterday presented their case for suspending Mr Basescu, accusing him of interfering with the judiciary and exceeding his powers by announcing tough austerity measures in 2010 as part of an international bailout.

If deputies vote to remove him today, the question must go to a public referendum within 30 days – a procedure Mr Basescu survived in 2007.

“By their impeachment plans, [Mr Ponta’s allies] are trying to take control of the state’s institutions and especially of the judiciary,” Mr Basescu, president since 2004, said yesterday.

“Actions undertaken by the ruling parties since they took over show that they intend to violate the institutions of the state by breaking up committees or issuing emergency decrees, like the one that reins in the prerogatives of the constitutional court.”

The government passed a controversial decree this week to prevent the constitutional court from ruling on parliamentary decisions, meaning it could not annul an impeachment vote against Mr Basescu, whom Mr Ponta claims holds great influence over the court’s judges.

Earlier this week, Mr Ponta also used his parliamentary majority to replace the speakers of both houses of parliament with his allies.

The nine judges on the constitutional court wrote to EU organisations to complain about the government’s “virulent attack” against it.

Several leading civil rights groups condemned Mr Ponta’s moves in their own letter to the EU, accusing him of launching an “unprecedented attack” on independent Romanian institutions that represented a “drift towards a non-democratic regime”.

The EU and US have also expressed grave concerns over the government’s actions, which its members say are justified measures to strip excessive power from Mr Basescu and restore proper democracy to the country.

About 2,000 people rallied in Bucharest in support of Mr Basescu yesterday, and denounced what Mr Ponta’s critics call a brazen power grab by his government.

Mark Gitenstein, the US ambassador to Romania, said this week he was “deeply concerned about any attempt to threaten the independence of Romania’s democratic institutions” and warned that it would be a “dark day in Romanian history” if the government interfered with the constitutional court.

Viviane Reding, the EU’s justice commissioner, wrote in a tweet: “For me, a well-functioning, independent judicial system is a pre-condition for mutual trust in the European area of justice.”

Last week, the constitutional court ruled that Mr Basescu rather than Mr Ponta should represent Romania at the EU summit, but the premier ignored the decision and went to Brussels anyway.

That dispute came as a senior academic panel found that Mr Ponta had plagiarised much of his doctoral thesis and should be stripped of his qualification. Again Mr Ponta accused the panel of working on behalf of Mr Basescu, and he refused to admit plagiarism or consider calls to resign.

Mr Ponta also accused the president of conducting a vendetta against his political mentor – and the supervisor of his thesis – former premier Adrian Nastase, who this month shot and lightly wounded himself after being sentenced to two years in jail for corruption.

“We are living through desperate days that are erasing 22 years spent building democracy,” wrote MEP Monica Macovei, a former Romanian justice minister and ally of Mr Basescu.