Romanian interim president Crin Antonescu [personal website, in Romanian] signed a law Monday requiring that at least 50 percent of the electorate turn out for the July 29 national referendum to decide whether suspended president Traian Basescu [official website, in Romanian] should be ousted from the presidency. Basescu was impeached [JURIST report] earlier this month by a 256-114 vote in Parliament [official website] in an ongoing power struggle between Basescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta [BBC profile], whose Social Liberal Union (USL) took the majority of parliament seats in May. The ruling party had abolished the 50 percent threshold, which is historically difficult to achieve in Romania, but Antonescu and USL caved to pressure from the European Commission (EC) [official website] and the US to reinstate the law after Romania's Constitutional Court [official website, in Romanian] ruled last week that Parliament had been wrong to eliminate it [JURIST report]. Basescu survived a similar referendum in 2007 [Reuters report] with 74 percent of the vote and only 44 percent turnout.
Last week 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, who has been president of Romania since 2004, has survived impeachment once before. In 2007 Basescu was reinstated after the high court certified the results of a referendum in which 74 percent of voters rejected Basescu's impeachment [JURIST report].