Friday, August 3, 2012

NYT: Court Decides Not to Certify Ouster Vote in Romania


PARIS — Romanian voters may have succeeded in ousting their president after all.

The country’s Constitutional Court said Thursday that it could not certify the results of Sunday’s referendum to remove the president, which initially failed for lack of sufficient turnout, even though the overwhelming majority of ballots were cast in favor. The court said that it had received contradictory data from different agencies on the number of eligible voters, and that it would take until Sept. 12 for it to resolve the issue. The announcement plunged the country into further political turmoil.

“The referendum should have been annulled,” Aspazia Cojocaru, one of nine judges on the court, said after the court announced its decision. “Everything was based on false data.”

Final counts released by the Central Election Bureau on Wednesday said that only 46.24 percent of the country’s eligible voters had cast ballots; more than half of all eligible voters are needed for the result to be valid. Of those who did participate, about 87.5 percent voted to remove President Traian Basescu.

But the court said the figures from the election bureau, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the National Statistics Institute were conflicting. It said it intended to review the voter rolls, and called on the government to provide an updated set by the end of August.

Officials said there were concerns that the rolls included many people who were dead, in prison or otherwise ineligible. If the figures are altered after the deliberations, the turnout in the referendum may prove to have been greater than 50 percent.

The governing coalition of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, which instigated the referendum, has complained publicly that the voting roll figures were outdated. “We consider the court’s decision as correct, and we will respect it,” Mr. Ponta said Thursday.

With Mr. Basescu’s fate once again in doubt, analysts said the court’s decision had intensified the battle between him and Mr. Ponta, who called for Mr. Basescu to resign despite the turnout. Mr. Basescu was suspended before the referendum, and that suspension will continue.

Mr. Ponta has in recent weeks come under international criticism for flouting the law in his determination to unseat Mr. Basescu. But the prime minister’s defenders accuse Mr. Basescu of abusing his power by refusing to appoint ministers selected by the prime minister and by using the secret service against rivals.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a political analyst who is president of the Romanian Academic Society, said that the court’s decision on Thursday was itself a breach, since the same court ruled in June that the referendum be conducted using the electoral rolls that are now being contested.

She said it appeared that after the referendum revealed how unpopular Mr. Basescu was, the court decided to rule in line with public opinion rather than adhere to the letter of the law.

“Everyone has known for months that the voting lists are bad and outdated,” Ms. Mungiu-Pippidi said. “But that has always been the case in Romania, and by that logic we would have to nullify the election results for the past 20 years.”

George Calin contributed reporting from Bucharest.

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