Romania's Traian Basescu survives impeachment vote

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Romanian President Traian Basescu addresses reporters after the referendum. 29 July 2012Image source, AFP
Image caption,
President Basescu addressed reporters holding a torch symbolising the "democracy flame"

Romanian President Traian Basescu has survived a referendum on his impeachment, after turnout fell below the 50% needed to validate the vote.

Of those who voted, 87.5% backed impeachment, according to the Central Election Bureau.

Mr Basescu, who has been suspended by parliament, had asked his supporters to boycott Sunday's vote.

Mr Basescu's arch-rival, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the president no longer had any legitimacy in office.

The centre-left government had accused the centre-right president of exceeding his authority and of meddling in government affairs.

On Monday morning the Central Election Bureau said turnout reached 46.13%.

'What's to discuss?'

As voting ended, Mr Basescu said that Romanians had "rejected a coup" by staying away from polling stations.

"Romanians have invalidated the referendum by not participating," he said.

He called on all sides to recognise the result.

However, Mr Ponta said Mr Basescu "will remain at Cotroceni [the presidential palace] but he will no longer have legitimacy".

"We must defend Romanians who voted for the impeachment."

Asked if he would co-operate with the Mr Basescu, Mr Ponta said: "What's there to discuss with a man who has been rejected by Romanians?"

BBC Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe said high summer temperatures and a growing distrust of the whole political elite, appeared to have kept voting numbers down.

The row between Mr Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta has caused alarm among Romania's EU partners.

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.

According to the latest polls, about 65% of the electorate wants to remove Mr Basescu.

Some 18 million Romanians were eligible to vote.

Ponta's drive

The referendum is the latest twist in an ongoing power struggle between Mr Basescu and Mr 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 who 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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