Prior to Sunday's referendum in Romania to determine whether President Traian Basescu would be removed from power, many had hoped that it might put an end to months of bickering in Bucharest that has paralyzed the country's government. Such optimism, however, proved to be in vain.
On Monday, just hours after the country's Central Election Bureau announced that voter turnout had not been sufficient to make results of the referendum valid, Basescu went on the attack. Those who "organized this failed coup," he said, "should be held responsible before the state institutions."
Prime Minister Victor Ponta, widely seen to have orchestrated the impeachment proceedings against Basescu, promptly responded by demanding that the president resign. "He will probably stay in (the presidential palace), will have cars, villas and some profiteers around him who will continue to advise and praise him," Ponta said on Monday. "But for the Romanian people he stopped being a leader last night."
Only 46 percent of voters cast their ballots in the referendum, called after Romanian parliament, controlled by Ponta's leftists, suspended Basescu in early July on accusations that he had overstepped his power. Some 88 percent of those who did bother to vote favored Basescu's ejection, but the president had asked his followers to boycott the referendum.
The result and the ongoing power struggle between the two is a setback for the country. Romania's economy is struggling mightily and it has asked for a 5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout package. The IMF has asked for budget cuts in exchange and delayed the emergency aid until after the referendum. Furthermore, Bucharest has yet to convince the European Union that it has done enough to combat corruption, a key hurdle before Romania will be allowed to join the Schengen Agreement, Europe's border-free travel regime.
Ponta has likewise severely damaged his country's standing in the European Union. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso recently admonished Ponta for his disregard of democratic institutions such as the Romanian Constitutional Court. In addition to ignoring a high court ruling earlier this year, which held that Basescu, not Ponta, was the country's proper representative at EU summits, the prime minister also sought to limit the court's power and remove some justices.
The prime minister has vowed to make improvements. But Monday's renewed squabbling does not bode well. German commentators also take a harsh view of the situation in Romania.
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The white knight has defeated the black one: Many in Europe, and in even in Romania, are turning to such simplicities to describe the outcome of the referendum. The white knight is the conservative President Traian Basescu, who survived the vote to remove him from office. The Social Democratic Prime Minister Victor Ponta plays the role of the villain. But reality is not so clear cut. There is no winner in the political power struggle in the EU's poorest country."
"The entire country has suffered in recent weeks. The drought, the global economic crisis and the national political crisis have caused the currency to plunge dramatically. Even faith in the EU has been bruised. Many Romanians have recently gotten the feeling that Brussels is trying to purify the country. The showdown between Traian Basescu and Victor Ponta is not even close to over. Adherence to democratic rules will be decisive. Only then can it be certain that the victor remains European."
Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Basescu has only won a battle in this war that criminal oligarchs ... have declared against him. They cannot forgive him for backing the rule of law and they fear prosecution. Political parties are merely tools for the oligarchs. Because Ponta and (political ally Crin) Antonescu have failed to impeach Basescu -- the most important task they had been entrusted with -- the two must now fear being dropped by their principals. For that reason alone, they cannot admit defeat and must continue demolishing the rule of law in Romania."
"The stabilization of Romania can only be successful after Ponta and Antonescu make their exit from the political stage."
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"With the referendum in Romania the country's entire political leadership was damaged. ... Above all it is the political culture in Romania that is suffering from this power struggle. The people must sit and watch how a pair of politicians not only damage themselves, but also the entire state and its constitution."
"Unlike the case of Hungary, the European Union reacted swiftly this time and clearly and unambiguously criticized the political leadership in Bucharest. While the EU doesn't have many tools to intervene, it has used the few at its disposal -- such as questioning Romania's readiness for membership in the Schengen Area."
"The currency of democratic values must have as much value in Europe as saving the euro. But it is not only up to Brussels, but also Romania itself to end the crisis of political leadership in the country. They will have an opportunity to do so in parliamentary elections scheduled for this fall."
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"With the return of Basescu to the presidential palace, the power struggle between the president and the government is in no way over. Parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn will inspire the political enemies to more surprise attacks. For the credibility of Romania's political class to be restored, the people involved would have had to take the necessary consequences. The voluntary resignations of the embattled president and the prime minister, who has been compromised by accusations of plagiarism, in addition to early parliamentary and presidential elections would have been the correct steps. As it is, though, society remains deeply polarized. And the fighters are now moving on to the next round."
The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The country is now being threatened by a dangerous stagnation. It is above all in the hands of the former captain Basescu whether the ship of Romanian state will begin to list after all the storms and will become unmaneuverable in rough seas, or whether it will reach calmer waters again."
"This is the hour of compromise and accommodation. The polarization of the last years has led to an atmosphere of hate, slander and suspicion in Romania, within which the young democracy cannot thrive. Basescu has played a role in that and at least seems to have come to the realization that it cannot continue. In the night after the referendum, he declared that it was now time to bridge differences and work towards a reconciliation of society. His inconsistencies in recent years, however, lead to skepticism over whether Basescu will really fulfill this promise."
"On the other hand, Social Democratic Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his liberal partner Crin Antonescu must acknowledge their failure and seek rapprochement."
-- Renuka Rayasam and Charles Hawley
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