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Romania court approves voting hours extension for upcoming referendum

The Constitutional Court of Romania [official website, in Romanian] on Tuesday upheld a change to the country's referendum law that will lengthen voting times by four extra hours. The court ruled that the voting hours extension is constitutional [Bloomberg report] as passed by Parliament [official website], in which the majority of seats is currently held by the Social Liberal Union (USL) party of Prime Minister Victor Ponta [BBC profile]. Ponta and suspended president Traian Basescu [official website, in Romanian] have been in an ongoing power struggle that had led to a national referendum scheduled for July 29 to decide whether Basescu will be ousted from the presidency altogether. Basescu was impeached [JURIST report] earlier this month by a 256-114 parliamentary vote, after which Parliament voted to eliminate a provision of the referendum law requiring at least 50 percent national turnout for referendum results to be valid, which is historically difficult to achieve in Romania. The Constitutional Court then reinstated the provision, ruling that Parliament had been wrong to eliminate the rule [JURIST report]. Basescu survived a similar referendum in 2007 [JURIST report] with 74 percent of the vote and only 44 percent turnout.

Romanian interim president Crin Antonescu [personal website, in Romanian] last week signed a law reinstating the 50 percent turnout threshold [JURIST report]. A week earlier European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso [official website] summoned Ponta to Brussels to discuss concerns over some of the prime minister's policies, urging Ponta to respect the full independence of the Romanian judiciary and expressing the EC's desire that Romania maintain a democratic system of checks and balances. Earlier this month the Constitutional Court accused Ponta of overstepping his authority [JURIST report] by attempting to seize control over the judiciary system. Ponta also ignored a decision by the court finding Basescu should be the representative of the country at the European Council meeting in Brussels. In 2009 the Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Basescu winner of the country's disputed presidential election [JURIST report]. Basescu has been president of Romania since 2004.

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