6th July, 2012
Romania’s parliament voted Friday to impeach President Traian Basescu in a spiralling political crisis that has raised warnings in the West that the country’s democracy is under threat.
A total of 256 lawmakers out of 432 voted in favour of the move against the centre-right Basescu, according to an official count, but the impeachment will only take effect if approved in a referendum within 30 days.
The bitter feud between Basescu and his arch-rival, the centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta, 39, has thrown Romania into its worst crisis since it emerged from communist dictatorship just over two decades ago.
Western powers have voiced fears that Ponta’s coalition government, which took office only in May, has been eroding democratic checks and balances in its campaign to oust the 60-year-old Basescu, who first took office in 2004.
This week, Ponta’s ruling Liberal Social Union (USL) coalition fired the speakers of both houses of parliament and the ombudsman and threatened to sack judges of the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest court.
The United States and European Union as well as France, Germany, the Council of Europe and several rights groups, including Freedom House and the Helsinki Committee, have all expressed concern.
“The rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of the European democracy and indispensable for mutual trust within the European Union,” warned the European Commission.
The turmoil comes only days after a scandal involving Ponta who was found to have plagiarised parts of his PhD thesis.
It also follows a bitter feud between the premier and the president over which one should represent Romania at European summits.
In a sign of the heightened political tensions, Ponta said after the vote Friday that “my family, my children have been threatened”. He added that he had asked for help from the authorities and did not feel in danger.
The political crisis in one of Europe’s poorest countries has seen the the currency nosedive in recent days.