BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Suspended Romanian President Traian Basescu rallied his supporters on Saturday before a referendum on his impeachment next week, urging Romanians to vote and defeat what he called the government’s “coup d’etat”.
Parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s leftist Social Liberal Union (USL), suspended the rightist Basescu earlier this month, saying he had overstepped his powers. A referendum on July 29 will decide whether he should be removed permanently.
The government bowed to European Union demands this week and said it would respect a court ruling that turnout must be more than half for the referendum to be valid, a threshold which gives Basescu a better chance of surviving in office.
The government’s decision to respect the court ruling has prompted suggestions that Basescu’s supporters could keep him in office by simply staying away from the polls.
Their abstention would probably mean a large majority in favour of impeachment but turnout - usually about 50 percent in Romanian elections - would be too low for the result to be valid.
But Basescu called on Romanians to go to the polls to defeat the impeachment drive.
“I want everyone to vote on the 29th. There are a lot of people who say don’t vote, don’t legitimise the coup d’etat. I could agree with them, but only up to a point,” Basescu told thousands of supporters at a rally in scorching heat in the northeastern city of Iasi.
“More than ever, Romania now needs to see that a force exists that puts an end to Ponta and Antonescu’s abuses and coup d’etat. This force is none other than the Romanian people,” said a confident Basescu.
Ponta and his USL ally Crin Antonescu, who is acting president during Basescu’s suspension, have been harshly criticised by the European Union for pushing through a series of measures aimed at restricting Basescu’s power.
Brussels says the measures have undermined the rule of law.
Ponta’s government joined forces with parliament earlier this month to suspend Basescu, a conservative.
Opinion polls show most Romanians support permanently removing Basescu from office due to his association with austerity measures and a perception of corruption among his political allies.
The political turmoil has raised doubts about the future of an International Monetary Fund-led aid deal, sending the leu currency to record lows in a country already weathering a recession.
The president is in charge of foreign policy and the powerful secret services, which are a sensitive topic in a country still scarred by the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu and his dreaded Securitate. The president also nominates the prime minister.
The EU’s criticism of the government over the impeachment effort followed a similar row with fellow EU member Hungary, where political analysts say Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pushed the limits of EU standards to consolidate power.
Editing by Roger Atwood