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A test for the Romanian democracy

A test for the Romanian democracy
Unsinkable Basescu This year has been a difficult one for Romania: in addition to economic troubles the country has faced a serious political crisis. It began in February 2012 with the resignation of the second Emil Boc cabinet, formed by the Democratic Liberal Party and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. The next government led by Mihai Ungureanu was short-lived and dismissed after two months as a result of a vote of no-confidence. The present prime minister and co-president of the ruling Social-Liberal Union, Victor Ponta, quickly became a vociferous opponent of President Traian Basescu after becoming the head of the government. In July 2012 Basescu was suspended from office by parliament for allegedly overstepping his constitutional authority. Curiously, this was the second attempted impeachment of Basescu. In 2007 he became the first Romanian president to be suspended from office for alleged unconstitutional conduct. It would seem at first glance that these two cases are fully identical: both were inspired by his opponents, both led to national impeachment referendums and both failed. But there is one big difference. If in 2007 the majority of voters were against Basescu’s impeachment, in 2012 over 80% of those who voted supported the impeachment. Only a low voter turnout allowed Basescu to retain his post. As the results of the two referendums show, public attitudes towards Basescu have changed dramatically. His popularity decreased substantially after he supported strong austerity measures agreed with the EU and IMF in 2010. The political crisis had a negative impact on the Romanian economy on top of the effects of the severe drought which afflicted the Romanian agricultural sector this summer. The national currency, the leu, fell against the euro by 4.5 percent in one month. The political turmoil also affected the investment environment in the country, where the volume of direct investment has decreased over the last few years. Foreign investors are apparently unhappy with the political instability, although as of yet none has announced any intention of leaving because of the crisis. In the meantime, the IMF, which provides funding to Romania, is insisting that austerity measures and privatisation are urgently implemented. The third attempt? Shortly after the 2012 impeachment referendum was declared invalid, talks began about another attempt to remove Basescu. In particular, Dan Voiculescu, the Romanian media tycoon and one of the supposed masterminds behind the president’s most recent suspension, claimed that a new impeachment is possible. In order for such an attempt to be successful, the president’s political adversaries might try to arrange for a new referendum to coincide with the date of the parliamentary elections, which are to take place in December 2012. However, it seems that the third attempt is unlikely to happen and Basescu, whose presidential term expires in 2014, has a good chance of serving it in full. There is strong pressure from the EU and US, which are closely monitoring the situation in Romania and on which the country is heavily dependent. Their reaction to the July 2012 attempted impeachment and Ponta’s actions prior to it, including ignoring a ruling of the Constitutional Court on attendance in the European Council, and accusing the court’s judges of being biased, was highly critical. In addition, one day before the vote in parliament, Ponta made an attempt to drop the requirement of a minimum turnout for the referendum to be valid through an emergency decree. However, he performed an about-turn after strong criticism from the EU. EU representatives were concerned that the government had breached the rule of law and undermined democracy in the country. Overall, its actions were considered unacceptable and to put at risk the progress made by Romania in the years since the country joined the European Union. Serious concerns were expressed about the political crisis becoming an additional obstacle on Romania's way towards full integration into the European Union. What now and what next? Basescu assumed office on 27 August 2012. Following this, the crisis abated and public attention switched to other important developments such as the privatisation of Oltchim, one of the largest chemical companies in Romania, and changes in the primary education system. Although the relationship between the president and the government remains tense, the open political war between them seems to have ceased, at least for now. Politicians from both camps have adopted a more restrained tone and even Basescu has taken up a more discreet position than before the attempted impeachment. In the meantime, Romania is now approaching another important political event, the parliamentary elections which are to take place on 9 December 2012 and which could intensify the political turmoil in the country. By Marina Zvyagintseva Senior Associate, Business Intelligence, Moscow
Published: 17th October 2012