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Romania Constitutional Court invalidates national referendum to remove president

The Constitutional Court of Romania ruled Tuesday that the July 29 national referendum to remove President Traian Basescu [official websites, in Romanian] from office is invalidated for failing to achieve the required threshold of 50 percent voter turnout. The ruling confirms [Reuters report] the findings of the national electoral bureau, which finalized the national turnout rate at 46 percent [JURIST report], of which over 80 percent cast votes in favor of ousting Basescu, whose austerity policies have been hugely unpopular with the electorate. The controversial attempt to remove Basescu from office was largely orchestrated by Prime Minister Victor Ponta [BBC profile], whose Social Liberal Union (USL) party in May gained control of the majority of seats in Parliament [official website], which then impeached Basescu [JURIST report] last month by a 256-114 vote. Afterward Parliament voted to eliminate the referendum law's 50 percent turnout provision, which has historically been very difficult to achieve in Romania, but the Constitutional Court ordered the threshold rule reinstated, holding that Parliament had been wrong to eliminate the provision [JURIST report]. Romania [CIA World Factbook profile] emerged from communism in 1989, joined the European Union [official website] in 2007 and has a population of around 20 million. Basescu has been president of Romania since 2004.

Basescu survived a similar referendum in 2007 [JURIST report] with 74 percent of the vote and only 44 percent turnout. In 2009 the Constitutional Court declared then-incumbent Basescu the winner of that year's disputed presidential election [JURIST report], returning him to office after unanimously rejecting a complaint by Basescu's opponent alleging voter fraud and bribery. Last week the Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary change to the country's referendum law that lengthened voting times by an four extra hours [JURIST report], an effort led by Ponta and the USL to increase voter turnout for Sunday's referendum. A week earlier interim president Crin Antonescu [personal website, in Romanian] signed a law reinstating the 50 percent turnout threshold [JURIST report] after the Constitutional Court's ruling that it was improperly eliminated by Parliament. Also this month the Constitutional Court accused Ponta of overstepping his authority [JURIST report] by attempting to seize control over the judiciary system, after which 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.

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