It appears Paraguay (as I covered last month) is not the only country embroiled in an impeachment scandal. Last Friday July 6 Romania’s parliament voted to impeach President Traian Basescu, who has violated the Constitution and acted as a dictator according to opponents (note: all news-related information and quotes in this article derive from The NYT article linked above, unless otherwise indicated).
But the move to impeach has drawn intense criticism, with many saying it is not fact-based and entirely politically motivated. It is believed to be driven by Prime Minister Victor Ponta to eliminate his political adversary and consolidate his control of the country, which sounds pretty dictatorial to me.
Ponta’s governing coalition has already removed the speakers of both parliament chambers and the national ombudsman, who has the power to challenge emergency legislation before the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, he reduced the powers of the Constitutional Court, and is proceeding with impeachment even though the Court ruled that Basescu did not break any laws (i.e., did not violate the Constitution as Ponta’s backers claim).
The New York Times termed these developments “a political crisis,” and evidence of “government’s apparent attempts to usurp power and subvert the country’s young democracy.” The European Commission–Romania joined the EU in 2007–is not too happy either. It is particularly worried by moves to reduce the power of independent institutions like the Constitutional Court. EC remarked, “The rule of law, the democratic checks and balances and the independence of the judiciary are cornerstones of the European democracy and indispensable for mutual trust within the European Union.”
As with Paraguay and Mexico, public frustration in Romania with lack of change and economic struggles is boiling over into political turmoil. President Basescu is a proponent of the infamous austerity measures that have caused upheaval throughout Europe. In 2009, Basescu sought emergency loans from the IMF. Today, the aid package is still being negotiated, and the situation remains dire; Romania’s currency value has plummeted compared to the the Euro, many in the country face financial hardship, and protests have become increasingly common.
But the question remains: is not getting the economy out of the gutter and not delivering the change you promised legitimate grounds for impeachment? After all, elected officials have been not delivering on promises the world over and since the beginning of time. At least Romania is following a more democratic impeachment process than Paraguay–the Romanian parliament had to vote to approve the measure, and the Romanian people will vote in a national referendum on July 29 on whether or not to make Basescu’s removal official and binding. He also faced impeachment charges in 2007, but the people voted to acquit and he remained in office.
From what I have read on the political environment in Romania, it does appear that Basescu’s impeachment is politically motivated and disingenuous, especially as the Constitutional Court found that he did not violate any of the country’s laws. People in democratic countries have a mechanism to remove from office leaders they feel are not doing a good job–elections. If Romanians are displeased with Basescu’s handling of the economy or other issues, they should vote for someone else in the next election. Impeachment should be reserved only for the greatest instances of government misconduct and illegal activity.
Romanians have the ability to restore order by voting to reject impeachment in the national referendum. If approved, it would be a sign that democracy in the country is faltering.