Jubilant Basescu pledges to root out corruption


ROMANIA:President Traian Basescu has told Romanians that he will use a crushing referendum victory to reinvigorate the country's reform drive and root out corruption at the highest levels of business and politics.

With counting nearly complete after Saturday's national vote, returns showed that 74 per cent of Romanians had rejected a proposal to impeach Mr Basescu for abuse of office. Turnout was estimated at about 44 per cent.

Parliament called the ballot after the Liberal Party scrapped a coalition with Mr Basescu's Democratic Party and allied with the opposition Social Democrats (PSD) to accuse the president of undermining the cabinet and interfering in governmental, judicial and security matters.

Mr Basescu, in turn, claimed Liberal prime minister Calin Tariceanu had formed an unholy alliance with the ex-communist PSD to derail his anti-corruption reforms and protect their wealth, power and links to shadowy businessmen whom he calls "oligarchs".

"I draw a single conclusion from this vote and that is that Romanians want to change the political class," Mr Basescu told cheering supporters in Bucharest.

"Nobody wants a Romania owned by oligarchs anymore," he said. "I will not negotiate on the people's hopes for a modern country, a new Romania that is different from the one that emerged during the transition [ from communism]."

The European Union, which has threatened to withhold funding from new member Romania unless it pursues a tough anti-corruption programme, hailed Mr Basescu's triumph.

"I want to congratulate President Basescu for the result in the referendum," European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said in a statement.

"I hope that this outcome will help Romania . . . move forward with the reforms that are needed, especially in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption."

Many senior officials in Brussels, along with millions of Romanians, believe the former sea captain is determined to reduce graft in a country that is arguably the most corrupt in the EU.

His critics call him a megalomaniac who is protecting his own crooked friends, however, and they responded cautiously yesterday to his call for dialogue.

"We are prepared to discuss with the president, but only within the framework of the constitution," said PSD leader Mircea Geoana.

"While the electorate did not give Mr Basescu a red card it did not give him a free hand either."

Prime minister Mr Tariceanu, whose relationship with the president has become an almost-perpetual slanging match, said: "Romanians gave Traian Basescu a second chance. I accept that decision and will co-operate with him to the benefit of Romanians."

Many politicians and analysts held out little hope for a truce between the pugnacious president and a hostile cabinet, however.

"Reforms will go nowhere with the current government," said Monica Macovei, who was a very well regarded justice minister before she was sacked this year by Mr Tariceanu.

"But Traian Basescu's return will at least block attempts to sack top prosecutors, as the president has the final say," she added.