Romania holds Basescu referendum
Sunday, 29 July 2012 15:39
Romania holds Basescu referendumMore than half the electorate needs to turn out for the referendum to be valid

The people of Romania are voting in a referendum on whether to impeach centre-right President Traian Basescu.

Mr Basescu has already been suspended by parliament in a series of moves that have caused alarm among Romania's EU partners.

The centre-left government accuses Mr Basescu of exceeding his authority and of meddling in government affairs.

Mr Basescu denies the accusations and has urged a boycott of Sunday's referendum.

Under Romanian law, more than half the electorate will have to vote to make the result valid.

By 14:00 local (1100GMT) turnout had reached 21% - about 6% down on the figure at the same point in June's local elections.

Polling stations close at 23:00 local time. First results are expected on Monday.

Popularity slump

BBC Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says the referendum is one of the fiercest political clashes in Romania since the return of democracy in 1990.

The result is hard to predict but will have long-term repercussions for Romania's political and economic stability, he says.

Continue reading the main story

President Traian Basescu

Romania holds Basescu referendum
  • The 60-year-old ex-sea captain was first voted in office in 2004
  • He has faced frequent challenges to his authority
  • In 2007 he was suspended, the first time he faced impeachment
  • In the past he has been accused of collaborating with the feared secret police of the communist Ceausescu era
  • He was transport minister from 1999 to 2000, after which he became mayor of Bucharest

The row has paralysed political decision-making in Romania at a time when it is finalising agreements on an IMF-backed aid package.

Mr Basescu's popularity has slumped since he backed tough austerity measures demanded by Romania's international lenders.

Mr Basescu had initially urged Romanians to vote "no" to what he called "a coup", but later asked his supporters to boycott the vote altogether, a stance also adopted by the opposition Liberal Democrats.

If he is impeached, a presidential election must be held within three months. According to the latest polls, about 65% of the electorate wants to remove Mr Basescu.

Some 18 million Romanians are eligible to vote; however, analysts say the government will struggle to achieve the required turnout.

Early reports show a turnout of just over 9%, after the first three hours of voting.

Ponta's drive

The referendum is the latest twist in an ongoing power struggle between Mr Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has been the driving force behind efforts to unseat the President.

Mr Ponta, who is himself embroiled in a scandal over plagiarism, challenged Romania's Constitutional Court and has been accused of threatening judges whom are aligned to the President.

The Prime Minister's actions have provoked harsh criticism from the EU.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy voiced "deep concerns" about the political crisis in Romania "with regard to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary".

Despite Romania's promises to respect EU institutions, Brussels has said it has yet to see any proof this is the case.

Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but Brussels has put both countries under special monitoring because of concerns about judicial independence, corruption and political influence in state institutions.

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