Monday, May 28, 2007

Referendum fallout

The Sofia Echo

NEW CONTROVERSY: Fresh from his referendum victory, on May 19 Romanian president Basescu got into racism scandal allegedly referring to a Romanian journalist as a 'stinking gypsy.' The National Council for Fighting Against Discrimination decided on May 23 to give Basescu a warning after establishing that the expression he used towards journalist Andreea Pana was discriminatory. Even though Basescu apologised for using an inappropriate phrase, he threatened to file a legal complaint against the council.

Romania’s political parties are considering their options after president Traian Basescu survived a May 19 referendum on whether he should be impeached.

Seventy-four per cent voted against impeachment, with voter turnout at about 44 per cent. The result leaves Basescu in office until the next presidential elections in 2009. The referendum was called after, on April 19, Romania’s parliament suspended Basescu after opposition parties alleged that he had repeatedly breached the constitution.

After the exit polls, Basescu joined supporters to celebrate his victory at Universitate Square. He said that his initial conclusions from the referendum results were that Romanians wanted modernisation of the political class, mainly the introduction of the uninominal vote, continuation of reforms of the justice system, health care, and decentralisation, and the revision of the constitution.

These revisions, Basescu said on May 10, envisage the negotiation of a majority that would modify the constitution until the next presidential election in 2009. He will try to impose a semi-presidential republic using the French model with more power for the president as well as the uninominal vote, reported on May 11.

After the exit polls, Romania’s prime minister and leader of the ruling liberal party, PNL, Calin Tariceanu, said that he was willing to co-operate with Basescu “for the sake of Romanians”.

“I am proud of PNL and of the message we sent out to Romanians, that the government must work to the benefit of citizens. When I saw millions of Romanians voting today, I felt sorry they were called on to settle our political feuds,” Tariceanu said on May 21, news agency Mediafax reported. He said that liberals did not wish to suspend the president but felt this was in the country’s best interest.

The referendum left Tariceanu, who commands 20 per cent of the seats in parliament, open to claims by Basescu supporters that he has lost the backing of voters. The head of the Democratic Party (supporting Basescu), Adriean Videanu, told Mediafax that not only should PNL leave the government and join the opposition, but all the parties that supported the dismissal of the president should back out and let Romanians choose their rulers in early elections.

Moreover, some members of Tariceanu’s own PNL and opposition lawmakers have called for his resignation after exit polls showed that even most traditional liberal voters opted for Basescu. May 19 referendum exit polls showed that almost 60 per cent of voters who identified themselves as liberals, voted against Basescu’s dismissal. Even the PNL vice president Ludovic Orban on May 20 called for Tariceanu and the party’s cabinet ministers to leave the government and join opposition in parliament. In response, on May 21 at a news conference Tariceanu was uncompromising: “There is no question of abandoning government,” he said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Tariceanu’s long-standing conflict with Basescu led to Basescu’s suspension and later to the referendum. Therefore, the important question that arises now is how prime minister and president will manage to stabilise the political situation in the country, after they already failed to do so.

Some critics believe that one way to calm the situation would be early general elections. But from a practical point of view, this may not be as feasible. Ana Maria Nitoi, a journalist at the Romanian magazine The Diplomat, told The Sofia Echo that according to Romania’s constitution, early elections can be held only if parliament votes two consecutive times against the head of the government (Tariceanu) which is hardly likely knowing that all parties, except the PD, would not do such a thing. In Nitoi’s opinion, considering that many of the sympathisers of the anti-Basescu coalition parties voted for Basescu at the referendum, those parties should now be thinking about the results of the next year’s general elections. According to the latest polls, PD (supported by Basescu) is approaching 50 per cent in people’s choice, Nitoi said.

“That is why it is in their best interest [opposition parties] to try and co-exist and collaborate with the president,” she said.

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