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Romanians Reject Controversial Changes To Anti-Corruption Laws, Judicial Reforms

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Romanian President Klaus Iohannis casts his vote in a May 26 referendum on changes to the country's judiciary and anti-corruption legislation.

BUCHAREST -- Romanians have overwhelmingly rejected measures seen as making it more difficult to combat rampant state corruption, according to partial official results of a referendum on the matter.

The referendum on May 26 was held along with European Parliament elections, in which Romania’s pro-EU parties won a sweeping victory amid a record turnout at the polls.

The referendum was called by President Klaus Iohannis in an effort to muster popular support against PSD's push to reverse anti-corruption legislation and judiciary reforms.

With almost all of the ballots counted, more than 80 percent of voters responded "yes" to the referendum's two questions.

The first was: "Do you support a ban on amnesty and pardon in cases related to corruption?"

The second question was: “Do you support the ban on the adoption by the government of emergency ordinances in the field of crimes, punishments, and judicial organization and the extension of the right to appeal directly to the Constitutional Court?”

Turnout was about 41 percent, well above the 30 percent required to make the referendum valid.

Iohannis said the referendum "succeeded with flying colors," adding that Romanians had spoken out against the attempts of the leftist PSD coalition to reverse anti-corruption reforms in one of the European Union's most corrupt countries.

"This is a clear vote for correct politics, for true justice," Iohannis said. "No politician can ignore your clear vote for an independent judiciary."

'National Interest'

Iohannis had earlier said that "justice is a matter of national interest and the people have the right to decide whether or not they want corruption to become state policy."

Thousands of Romanians protested in February after the leftist government passed without any public debate an emergency measure that critics said restricted prosecutors' independence.

The move was the latest in a series of legislative and personnel changes by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) since it took power two years ago that have raised EU and U.S. concerns about the rule of law in Romania.

The PSD was opposed to the referendum and pushed through a decree earlier in May that changed the threshold for the vote to be valid to a turnout of 30 percent of those in the electoral register instead of 30 percent of those enrolled on the national voters' lists. The number of voters in the electoral register is more than 600,000 higher than in the lists.

Punished For 'Disastrous' Government

Meanwhile, the opposition centrist National Liberal Party (PNL) defeated the PSD in the European elections.

The PNL got 26.2 percent of the votes while the PSD got 23.7 percent, according to the Central Electoral Bureau.

A new alliance of opposition parties, the USR-Plus, secured third place with 20.5 percent.

The victory of the pro-European parties -- the clearest in a European election after Romania's admission to the bloc in 2007 -- came amid a record turnout of almost 50 percent and despite tens of thousands of Romanians working abroad being unable to vote after queuing for hours outside consulates and polling stations because of bureaucracy and staffing problems.

Video footage from voting stations across Europe of Romanians chanting "We want to vote" and "Thieves" amplified the ruling party's loss, according to analysts, and forced Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu to apologize to voters amid calls for the government's resignation.

Iohannis, a former PNL leader, said the PSD-led coalition had been punished "for the disastrous way they have governed the country."

Before the coalition came to power two years ago, Bucharest had earned praise from the EU for its crackdown on corruption under the leadership of chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Koevesi, who was dismissed last year by the leftist government for alleged abuse of power.

Despite her dismissal, Koevesi earned the preliminary backing of a European Parliament committee in February to become the EU's first anti-fraud prosecutor.

However, in March she was summoned for a third hearing by a controversial Romanian investigative agency on charges of abuse of office, bribery, and false testimony -- accusations she has denied.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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