Lawmakers Raise Pressure on Suspended Basescu
Basescu's opponents vote through the option of calling a second referendum. Meanwhile, the media council limits political speech on the airwaves. 26 April 2007
[The mounting conflict between Romanian President Traian Basescu and his political opponents ballooned into high drama on 19 April when the parliament voted to suspend Basescu over allegations of abuse of office. Rescinding his earlier statement that he would resign if suspended, Basescu now faces a referendum on impeachment, probably on 19 May.
The speaker of the Senate, Nicolae Vacaroiu, a former prime minister, was named interim president. On 23 April,
Adevarul reported, Vacaroiu said he believed Basescu should return to office if the referendum failed because of a low turnout, stressing however that this was merely his personal view. – TOL]
BUCHAREST, 25 April (Rompres) | Traian Basescu's political opponents gave him another blow in parliament on Tuesday [24 April]. In the joint session, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) came up with an amendment whereby the referendum could be repeated. Under the amendment, unless half of the eligible voters go to the polls [or] the Constitutional Court decides the lower turnout is grounds for declaring the referendum invalid, then it is up to parliament to decide under what circumstances a new referendum will be held. This would mean extending the suspension of Basescu by another 30 days at most.
The amendment, which was proposed by Social-Democrat deputy Eugen Nicolicea, states, "If the Constitutional Court ascertains that the legal conditions have not been met for the referendum to be validated, Romania's parliament will take note of the decision by the Constitutional Court and will decide on the procedure to be followed." The amendment passed 237–19 with 17 abstentions.
Before the joint session, the PSD core leadership met to discuss some likely ways of holding a repeat referendum. The meeting caused the plenum session to be late by one and a half hours. The PSD-proposed amendment made the Democrats so angry that they left the chamber before the proposal was put to vote. They accused the Social Democrat–Greater Romania–National Liberal–Conservative majority "of raping the constitution and the laws." "It is political passion and mafia revenge that are at stake here. We can't take part in such a masquerade and these absolutely unconstitutional things. You can vote whatever you want here, the telephone directory or to ennoble Conservative leader [Dan] Voiculescu
," the leader of the Democratic Party (PD) deputies, Cristian Radulescu, said.
The PD's stand was also backed by their allies, the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), although they left the plenum session later on, after the amendment vote, discontented with the decision over the setting up of a parliamentary commission to monitor compliance with the air time allotted [for political content] during the campaign [before the referendum]. PLD Executive President Gheorghe Flutur said that an unprecedented shift was happening in parliament, aimed at restricting Traian Basescu's rights. For his part, PLD Vice-President Cristian Boureanu said the proposal could be attacked in the Constitutional Court, charging that such a proposal "defies the society and the constitution." Hungarian Democratic Union in Romania (UDMR) head Marko Bela urged that Basescu should remain president if the referendum were to be invalidated on grounds of absenteeism at the polls. "If the referendum fails, namely if the turnout is low, then there will be no will for backing the parliament's decision, and therefore the president should stay," Bela said. Chamber of Deputies Speaker Bogdan Olteanu said it is up to the Constitutional Court to decide on the outcome of the referendum, with parliament to have competence only over implementing the court's decision, without "changing or adding anything." Olteanu argued that the procedures to be followed at a referendum on the president's suspension are not detailed either in the constitution or the functioning law of the Constitutional Court, which renders such regulation necessary.
Despite denouncing the amendment, the Democrats cannot challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Senator Radu Berceanu said that the PD would not contest the decision in the Constitutional Court since such action is not possible according to law. Although the Democrat President Emil Boc did not attend the session for health reasons, he nonetheless said he had issued a press release saying that parliament was coming up with new traps to obstruct President Basescu from returning to office.
Article 95, paragraph 3 in Romania's constitution states that "if the suspension proposal is passed, a referendum over the president's resignation will be held within a maximum of 30 days." Constitutional law experts, however, hold a provision stipulating the holding of a new referendum on grounds of absenteeism as unconstitutional. "The constitution stipulates that only one referendum, not several, shall be held," Hotnews quoted Corneliu Liviu Popescu, a constitutional law professor, as saying.
The senators and deputies also voted 236–50 with three abstentions for the national referendum on dismissing Romania's president to be held on 19 May 19. The debates surrounding the date were quite heated. The leader of the Democrat deputies, Radulescu, called for the referendum to be held on 20 May, arguing that its being held on a Saturday would lead to a low turnout and consequent debates over the juridical implications of absenteeism.
Lawmakers also passed an agreement proposed by Conservative Petru Calia stipulating Traian Basescu's name be introduced in the text of the referendum on the dismissal of the head of state. Article 2 of the draft resolution had originally stipulated that citizens should answer with "yes" or "no" to the question: "Do you agree with the dismissal of Romania's president?" Calia proposed that Traian Basescu's name should be introduced at the end of the question in order to prevent voters from becoming confused over which of the presidents – the suspended Basescu or the caretaker Nicolae Vacaroiu – was referred to.
Parliament also decided to set up a commission to monitor the airwaves leading up to the referendum. The Democratic and Liberal Democratic parties protested the decision. The PLD said the National Audio-Visual Council (CNA) already has such regulation in place and therefore the commission is illegal. Democrat Vice-President Berceanu said that Traian Basescu could be prevented from defending himself on public radio and television, if the commission bans him from doing so. The CNA president, Ralu Filip, met news directors and television and radio moderators, asking them to respect the council's campaign-related decisions. Filip warned that the airtime rules decided by the parliamentary commission would apply both to public and private channels.
Among the CNA's decisions related to the referendum campaign is a ban on clips with negative or positive portrayals of any party, politician, or political message. The CNA also banned radio and television channels from airing during the campaign public opinions gathered by SMS, e-mail, or telephone, because opinion should only be obtained through street interviews.