Aftermath of Romanian referendum leaves both sides with victory

Romania’s president Traian Băsescu narrowly survived a referendum on Sunday that would have removed him from office, but his meager support in the referendum will only further encourage his political rival, prime minister Victor Ponta. 

Although 87.52% of those who voted supported Băsescu’s impeachment (just 11.15% voted against it), only 46.23% of eligible voters turned out to vote on the referendum — lower than the 50% threshold required to remove the president.

In many ways, the vote may be the best situation for Ponta, whose social democratic Partidul Social Democrat (PSD, the Social Democratic Party) has formed an electoral union with the free-market liberal Partidul Naţional Liberal (PNL, the National Liberal Party).  Băsescu, who belongs to the rival center-right Partidul Democrat-Liberal (PD-L, the Democratic Liberal Party), will remain in office, but with significantly less political standing.

Ponta, whose electoral union won a landslide victory in recent local elections, is now the undisputed top mover in Romanian politics, and he will go into November elections with a very strong hand, given that Romanian voters blame the PD-L for austerity measures designed to bring Romania’s budget down to just 3% of GDP (as required pursuant to the terms of a loan from the International Monetary Fund that originated in 2009).

Ponta also remains another potential troublemaker (alongside Hungary’s Viktor Orbán) for the European Union to worry about.  He may have gone too far in the past three months since becoming prime minister — the European Union has been sounding the alarm at top volume for the past couple of weeks that it is not happy with Ponta’s efforts to undermine Romanian democracy and already-fragile legal institutions — calling the referendum, limiting Romania’s Constitutional Court, stacking Romania’s parliament with his own hand-picked leaders.

That he called the referendum was bad enough, but European leaders had made clear that Băsescu’s removal would have not been looked upon kindly.  Ponta and his allies therefore will emerge from Sunday’s vote having punished Băsescu, but not enough to bring the full force of EU ire upon them.

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