BUCHAREST, July 30: Romanian President Traian Basescu escaped impeachment on Monday when a referendum on his removal from office fell short of the 50 per cent turnout needed, despite a resounding vote for his dismissal.
His arch rival Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who has led efforts to push the centre-right Basescu from office, said he had accepted the result and would not pursue the president's ouster.
“I am not going to seek confrontation with Basescu,” Ponta told five foreign media in an interview, stressing that “everyone is going to lose if we are continuing to fight”.
Now that the two men will have to work together, Ponta pledged not to “interfere with the president's prerogatives”, but stressed: “It takes two to tango”.
Basescu said after results were announced that voters had “thwarted a coup” by shunning polling stations but acknowledged the “anger” of the millions who did call for his removal after eight years in office.
Official results showed 87.52 per cent of those who took part in Sunday's referendum had voted for Basescu's impeachment, while only 11.15 per cent had rallied to the president's cause.
But, according to returns from more than 99 per cent of polling stations, turnout was 46.23 per cent — below the 50 per cent of the 18.3 million electorate required for the result to be validated by the constitutional court.
The referendum was the culmination of weeks of political feuding between the conservative president and 39-year-old Ponta's centre-left USL coalition, which took power in May and quickly moved against Basescu.
Brussels and Washington attacked the government's campaign and questioned the democratic credentials of Romania, which only joined the European Union in 2007.
Ponta said on Monday he had “learnt all the lessons” from the criticism by the EU Commission, which had said his government's moves “have shaken our trust”.
He also admitted that Romania's international image had been “tainted” by the impeachment referendum.
But he added that he was “not going to blame the Commission for Romania's internal situation”.
“I will never use the nationalist speech. It is my 100 per cent belief that Romania has only one road to follow and that is the EU,” he stressed.
Basescu, who has survived two impeachment attempt in five years, said that Romanians had voted “for Europe and for democracy”.
Commentators warned however that the crisis could drag on as a fresh electoral clash looms with legislative polls slated for November.
Ponta had said earlier Monday that he and his rival could not work together, arguing the president had lost all legitimacy.
Basescu says he will cooperate with the USL provided its leaders “prove they want to reinforce the state, mend what they broke, observe the Constitution and legislation”.
The 60-year-old president was one of the country's most popular politicians but his approval ratings plummeted amid austerity cuts in 2010. He lost his parliamentary support in May this year when a right-wing government was ousted in a vote of confidence.
The USL promptly sacked the opposition parliamentary speakers and an ombudsman and clipped the powers of the constitutional court, earning rebukes from the international community.
On Monday the Ziarul financiar newspaper warned that any continued standoff could further undermine one of Europe's poorest nations on the eve of an evaluation mission by the EU and International Monetary Fund.
But Ponta said he was fully committed to implementing conditions set by the IMF and the EU last year.
He stressed all targets related to the budget deficit and the public debt had been met, while plans to list minority stakes in energy companies were on track.
Romania obtained a 20-billion-euro rescue package from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank in May 2009, in exchange for drastic spending cuts.
The austerity cure helped it emerge from two years of severe recession.—AFP