Romania Extends Referendum Voting Hours to Boost Turnout

Romania extended the voting hours to boost turnout and increase the chances of reaching a minimum threshold to make a July 29 referendum on removing President Traian Basescu valid.

Lawmakers voted in favor of changing a referendum law to keep polling stations open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mircea Dusa, the government minister in charge with the relations with the legislature, told reporters today. Parliament’s two houses also voted to introduce a requirement of a minimum turnout to meet the terms of a Constitutional Court ruling and pledges to European Union leaders.

The ruling coalition led by Premier Victor Ponta and interim president Crin Antonescu’s Social Liberal Union wants to oust Basescu amid a power struggle that weakened the country’s currency to a record low this week. The court requirement of a turnout minimum may give the president a chance to defeat the referendum with 9 million people required to cast ballots during the summer holidays.

“The only other change to the referendum law, besides the voter turnout threshold, is the extension of the voting hours to ensure increased participation because it’s a summer day,” Ponta said today.

The leu weakened to as low as 4.5733 per euro on July 16 and traded at 4.5679 at 6:25 p.m. in Bucharest. It has lost 2.5 percent this month, more than any currency in the world except the Sudanese pound.

Opinion Poll

About 66 percent of Romanians who plan to attend the referendum would vote to impeach Basescu because he announced wage cuts and tax increases in 2010, with 34 percent in favor of him keeping his job, according to a survey by the polling company CURS published by the newspaper Jurnalul National today.

The ruling coalition would get 63 percent of votes in a general election, while the opposition would garner 19 percent of the ballots, according to the survey of 1,104 people taken between July 11 and July 16. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

EU Warning

Romania’s political turmoil prompted European leaders including European Commission President Jose Barroso and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to urge the governing coalition to restore impeachment rules eased by the government and voice “great concern” over the efforts to fire Basescu and shore up power in response to austerity measures.

EU leaders also urged the governing coalition to abide by a Constitutional Court ruling and restore the court’s powers to rule on Parliament decisions.

Ponta said today the legislature will respect the verdict to amend a decree and restore the court’s rights to rule on decisions, with the exception of resolutions on the lower house’s autonomy, like changes of the heads of the two houses.

The opposition challenged the replacements of the previous heads of the two houses, who were members of the Liberal Democratic Party, at the court, which couldn’t give a verdict because of its diminished powers.

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