Romania Set for Further Political Turmoil After Vote

Romania Set for Further Turmoil as President Survives Vote
Romanian President Traian Basescu holds The Democracy Torch as he addresses reporters at his electoral campaign headquarters in Bucharest July 29, 2012. Photographer: Daniel Milailescu/AFP/GettyImages

Romania’s President Traian Basescu survived a second attempt to oust him in five years as a voter boycott invalidated an impeachment referendum, setting the stage for further battles with Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Turnout at yesterday’s referendum called by Ponta’s ruling coalition was 46.2 percent with 99.97 percent of the votes counted, below the minimum threshold of half the electorate, according to the central electoral bureau today. About 87.5 percent of those who participated voted to oust Basescu. Final figures will probably be released on Aug. 1, the bureau said.

Ponta’s government, the Balkan nation’s third this year, took power in May riding a Europe-wide backlash against austerity measures. The referendum, which must be endorsed by the Constitutional Court, will probably intensify wrangling that pushed the leu to a record low against the euro, boosted borrowing costs and delayed a review of a bailout loan, according to Commerzbank AG’s Thu Lan Nguyen.

“It will probably become clear very quickly that the political leadership of the country will remain divided so that further conflicts would be unavoidable,” Nguyen, a currency strategist, in Frankfurt, said before the vote. The leu may get “a very short-term” boost from the result, she said.

Weaker Leu

The leu, the world’s second worst-performing currency against the euro in the past month after the Sudanese pound, rebounded from a record low last week. It rose as much as 1 percent today to 4.5540 per euro and was trading at 4.5580 at 2:40 p.m. in Bucharest.

Ponta has said repeatedly any collaboration with a reinstated Basescu would be impossible and questioned his authority after the “massive vote” against him. “We have nothing more to discuss with a man rejected by the citizens,” Ponta told reporters today.

He also said in an interview for due to be broadcast on private television station Realitatea TV later today that Basescu must retire from his position as a dialogue between the two leaders is “out of the question.”

“A majority of the votes were in favor of removing the president, who has become very unpopular because of him backing the austerity measures” and Ponta “the new prime minister and tough political opponent of President Basescu has been the driving force behind the impeachment proceedings,” Raiffeisen Bank International AG analysts wrote in a note to clients today. “We assume, however, that the political wrangling will continue, which could weigh on the currency.”

‘Coup’ Averted

The government’s efforts to ease impeachment rules and diminish the Constitutional Court’s powers have drawn criticism from European Union leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who voiced concern that democracy is backsliding in the former communist country.

“Romanians rejected a coup d’etat,” Basescu told reporters yesterday. “The flame of democracy is still burning.”

The plebiscite was called by Ponta’s ruling coalition, which wanted to remove Basescu for overstepping his duties in announcing austerity measures. Basescu, who said “jailable politicians” were trying to orchestrate his ouster, urged citizens to boycott the vote to ensure turnout was below 50 percent of the country’s 18.3 million eligible voters.

Basescu will return to office immediately after he was suspended for a month to allow the vote to take place. Parliamentary elections are expected to take place in the fourth quarter.

“Should President Basescu stay on, the cohabitation with Premier Ponta would no doubt be very difficult, not least due to personal animosity between the two,” Pasquale Diana, an economist at Morgan Stanley in London, said in a July 27 report. “And beyond the near term, Basescu could also help to facilitate a surprise outcome at the next election.”

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