Saturday, May 19, 2007

Romania decides president's fate

[BBC] Romanian voters go to the polls on Saturday in a referendum that will decide the fate of the country's suspended President, Traian Basescu.

Mr Basescu was accused of violating the constitution and was suspended by parliament on 19 April.

He has been locked in a long-running power struggle with his former ally, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

With a high turnout expected, Mr Basescu is tipped to win enough support to survive in office.

It has been a bitter, polarising campaign in which appeals for civility and restraint have all but been ignored, says the BBC's Razvan Scortea in Bucharest.

The voters will have to decide whether President Basescu is a threat to democracy or a political hero pushing for renewal and good governance.

On Friday, Romania's Foreign Minister, Adrian Cioroianu, warned that Europe's patience with Romania had a limit and that after the referendum, politicians should stop fighting and get back to work.

Turmoil in prospect

Polls open at 0800 (0500 GMT) on Saturday and close at 2000, with results expected overnight.

There are more 18 million eligible voters, including 2m Romanians living abroad.

If a majority of those voting back the impeachment, then Mr Basescu will be removed from office.

The opposition Social Democrats, who initiated the impeachment process, describe Mr Basescu as dictatorial and corrupt, a failure who has never lived up to his constitutional duties.

The president claims that his enemies are desperate to stop his anti-corruption drive, which has rattled what he calls "the economic mafia".

The referendum will give the people's verdict, but it may not end the crisis. If the president wins, he will still be facing his opponents in parliament, who also control the government, says our correspondent.

The president has called for them to resign, but legally he cannot force them to go. If Mr Basescu loses, then new presidential elections have to be held within three months.

However, the opposition parties appear to lack a strong candidate, so Mr Basescu could yet return as frontrunner.

Some analysts say that only a general election could calm the situation, but the next poll is more than 18 months away.

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