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Romanian President Survives Referendum


Romanian President Traian Basescu
Romanian President Traian Basescu
Romanian election officials say a referendum on whether to impeach President Traian Basescu is invalid because of low voter turnout.

The Central Election Bureau estimates that turnout in the July 29 vote was just under 46 percent.

By law, the referendum required participation by at least half of eligible voters to be valid.

Basescu, who had urged a boycott of the vote, said on national television late on July 29 that Romanians had "invalidated the referendum by not participating."

It was not immediately clear how many voters called for Basescu to leave office, although exit polls suggested about 80 percent of those who did vote supported the call for his impeachment.

The referendum came after Romania's center-left government, led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, moved to suspend Basescu on claims he exceeded his authority and meddled in government affairs.

Opinion polls before the vote showed that some 65 percent of Romanians wanted to remove Basescu, who was elected to a second five-year term in 2009.

Ioana, a voter outside a polling station in the capital, Bucharest, said she supported the move to oust Basescu, who has backed unpopular austerity measures and has faced frequent allegations of cronyism and corruption.

"I voted 'yes' for the sake of this country," she said.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta
Prime Minister Victor Ponta
Once official results confirm turnout is lower than 50 percent, the referendum will be declared invalid and Basescu will be reinstated.

A successful referendum would have sent the country into fresh presidential elections within the next three months.

That move could potentially have delayed parliamentary elections currently expected in November.

The squabble over Basescu has meant weeks of delays in political decision-making. It has sent the national currency plummeting and raised doubts about the fate of Romania's 5-billion-euro aid deal from the International Monetary Fund.

It has also angered the European Union and the United States, who accused Ponta of undermining rule of law and intimidating judges in his drive to see Basescu removed from office.

Despite Basescu's unpopularity, the referendum angered many Romanians. Voter Leopold says the political infighting is stealing attention and resources away from the more pressing economic issues facing the country.

"We are spending 100 million lei (23 million euros), instead of helping poor children and people. It wasn't necessary to have this referendum," he said. "Mr. Basescu should realize it and resign."

With reporting by AP, AFP, the BBC, and Reuters
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