Romania’s president to be reinstated

Romania’s suspended president will be reinstated after a supreme court ruling likely to reignite a power struggle with the prime minister that has raised international concerns over the democratic stability of one of the EU’s newest members.

The chief judge of Romania’s Constitutional Court said on Tuesday that despite an overwhelming majority voting to impeach Traian Basescu in last month’s referendum, the poll was invalid because fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters participated.

Crin Antonescu, acting president and close ally of prime minister Victor Ponta, whose centre-left coalition tried to impeach Mr Basescu, said he would respect the court’s ruling.

“I took note of the court’s decision, and as previously announced we will obey the decision,” he told reporters.

The decision is likely to put an end to Mr Ponta’s attempts to oust the president but the country is likely to remain in a state of high political instability, analysts said.

The ruling “could lead to further political infighting between the president and prime minister, as the next presidential election is not scheduled until end-2014”, said Daniel Hewitt, an analyst at Barclays.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, professor of democracy studies at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said it would be almost impossible for the two political leaders to co-operate in coming months.

“[The] rule of law was saved, but democracy is under major strain,” she said.

Mr Basescu was suspended by Romania’s parliament in July after being accused by Mr Ponta of exceeding his powers and interfering in the government’s economic policy. The president, who is supposed to be neutral under Romania’s constitution, has rejected such criticism.

However, the EU later expressed concern that Mr Ponta was curbing the constitutional court’s independence as part of his efforts to sideline Mr Basescu. Brussels forced him to sign a letter ahead of the referendum agreeing that he would reverse all decisions that undermined the rule of law and democracy in the country.

The intensifying political feud between the camps has had a detrimental impact on the country’s economy. The Romanian leu has hit record lows against the euro and dollar in recent months, and the country’s central bank had to intervene heavily in the market to support the currency.

The infighting has also raised fears among investors that the country risks losing a €5bn rescue package from the International Monetary Fund. Although the Consitutional Court’s ruling would not put an end to the power struggle, neither political party would risk losing that funding, said Dan Bucsa, chief economist at UniCredit in Bucharest.

“The current governing coalition, USL [Social Liberal Union], was formed with the purpose of removing president Basescu from power. Seeing its political project shattered for now, USL will have to focus on other topics,” Mr Bucsa said.

“USL has vowed to stick to the IMF agreement and sign a third one next year, when the current one expires.”

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