Romania’s parliament suspended President Traian Basescu on Thursday amid allegations he abused his authority, in a move that could lead to an early presidential election and possibly parliamentary polls.

The development escalates a dispute that has a clouded the country’s accession to the European Union and its ability to push through the reforms promised as a condition of membership.

The suspension, carried by 322 votes to 108, comes about three weeks after the centrist coalition government collapsed because of feuding between Mr Basescu and Calin Tariceanu, the prime minister. Mr Tariceanu expelled Mr Basescu’s supporters from the coalition and now relies on opposition parties to back a minority government.

Laura Radulescu of Pro Democracy, a reformist lobby, said: “A lot of important debates will now be disrupted.”

Nicolae Vacaroiu, the Senate speaker seen as an opponent of reform, will take over as caretaker president. By law, Mr Basescu must face an impeachment referendum within 30 days. However, he was expected to resign quickly, forcing a presidential election that polls suggest he would win. Last night, he addressed supporters gathered in Bucharest’s University Square

Since the collapse of communism in 1989, the presidency has had limited powers but has been a centre of influence at least on a par with the PM’s office.

Mr Basescu’s anti-corruption agenda won him election in 2004 but has earned him enemies. He is accused of exceeding his authority by criticising judges, influencing prosecutors and ordering the secret services to monitor ministers’ phones.

Events in Bucharest are being watched in other EU capitals. In the European parliament, the centre-right EPP-ED said: “It is regrettable that a country like Romania, which has only recently joined the European Union, has gone to a situation of institutional crisis.”

Yet in a sign of how far the country has come from the deeper turmoil of the 1990s, and of how confident investors are in Romania’s economic prospects, business people claimed to be largely unconcerned.

Guy Burrow, managing director of CEC Government Relations, a consulting firm, pointed to talks he had held with a large European private equity firm preparing to enter Romania. “Not once did they ever mention this stupid dispute between the president and the prime minister,” he said.

“The economy is growing by at least 7 per cent, inflation is 4 per cent and falling; it’s a big market and every sector is under-invested in,” Mr Burrow said. “They already have so many boxes ticked, investors are saying, ‘Let’s get in there’.”

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