WHO says politicians don't earn their wages? Romania's political class may not be greatly beloved by the people, but nobody can fault them for energy and ingenuity. On July 4th the centre-left coalition government filed a motion in Parliament to impeach President Traian Băsescu on grounds of violating the constitution and overstepping his authority. Mr Băsescu told Parliament that by suspending him, the coalition was in effect seizing control over the judicial system and public institutions.
The ruling coalition, of Social Democrats and Liberals, had passed a law earlier this week to ease the impeachment procedure. They had also replaced the heads of both chambers of Parliament, (both allies of Mr Băsescu) with politicians close to the Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. One ally, the Liberal leader Crin Antonescu, was appointed president of the Senate. That move will make him the country’s interim president if Mr Băsescu is suspended.
In another important move, an emergency ordinance shifted control of the Official Gazette, a bulletin that gives formal publication to laws and regulations, from parliamentary to government. Civil society groups are concerned that this could enable instant lawmaking.
The Cabinet also replaced the Ombudsman with a former Social Democrat lawmaker. That has sparked another round of controversies. The Ombudsman is the only Romanian public body who can challenge the emergency ordinances of the Government before the Constitutional Court.
The country’s cultural elite is also angry because the government decided to shift the Romanian Cultural Institute from the Presidency to the Senate. They accused the government of politicising the Institute, which is charged with protecting the country's cultural heritage at home and promoting it abroad.
Mr Ponta has also tried to change some of the judges from the Constitutional Court, accusing them of political bias. According to the Constitution, the judges are irremovable during their time in office. The Court said Mr Ponta’s government is trying to threaten its independence with such potential dismantling acts.
Mr Ponta's defenders say he is merely trying to chip away at Mr Băsescu's misuse of the legal system and other bodies. But some of those who are most disappointed with the president, who won office on an anti-corruption programme in 2004, are deeply unhappy with the prime minister's counter-attack.
The American ambassador, Mark Gitenstein, expressed “deep concerns” regarding manipulation of, or threats to, Romanian institutions. Financial markets are jittery too. The national currency, the leu, dropped to the lowest level in the last two weeks after the government announced the intention to remove Mr Băsescu.
If the government’s motion scheduled for Friday passes, then Mr Băsescu would be suspended for a month. The next stage will be a referendum on whether he is to stay in office. This has happened before, following his first impeachment in 2007. That time he managed to win the referendum and returned to office. This time his supporters are fewer and wearier. But perhaps Mr Ponta's tactics will energise them.