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BALKANS > Romanians vote on president’s fate

BUCHAREST - The Associated Press

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A Romanian woman casts her ballot at a voting station in Bucharest, during a referendum on Romania’s unpopular President Traian Basescu’s impeachement.

A Romanian woman casts her ballot at a voting station in Bucharest, during a referendum on Romania’s unpopular President Traian Basescu’s impeachement.

Romania’s unpopular president was fighting for his political life yesterday as Romanians voted on whether to impeach him, part of a political battle that has raised questions about the rule of law in the fledgling European Union member.

Basescu’s rivals in the government are seeking to impeach him for the second time in five years. They claim the 60-year-old populist violated the constitution by meddling in government business, coddling cronies and using the secret services against enemies.

Traian Basescu, a 60-year-old former ship captain whose popularity has plummeted over austerity measures, says the impeachment process is a political vendetta carried out by opponents and has urged his supporters to boycott the vote - a tactic that may help him survive thanks to a rule requiring turnout to be more than half of the total electorate.

The political turmoil has dented Romania’s credibility, with the U.S. and EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government’s respect for the independence of the judiciary. Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta, himself the subject of a plagiarism scandal, of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and were to close at 11 p.m. with 18 million Romanians eligible to vote. Most are expected to vote to impeach Basescu, but it is uncertain whether the government can muster the necessary turnout.

Basescu, who has been president since 2004, saw his approval numbers drop after government introduced austerity measures in 2010 to meet demands by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a multibillion euro loan. The government cut public wages by one-fourth and raised sales tax to 24 percent, one of the highest in the EU.

Ponta says that Basescu’s confrontational style of governing and interfering in the justice system and government business are evidence that he is unfit for the job. He says that charges that plagiarized his 2004 doctoral thesis, a charge he has partially acknowledged, are orchestrated by Basescu’s camp.

The foreign ministry has opened polling stations in embassies in the United States, Italy, Spain, France and elsewhere where an estimated 2 million Romanians are eligible to vote.

July/30/2012

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