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UPDATE 1-Romania’s suspended president asks voters to boycott vote

by on July 27, 2012 6:51 pm BST
 

Fri Jul 27, 2012 2:51pm EDT

* Vote looks set to remove Basescu from presidency – polls

* Referendum on whether to impeach president due on July 29

* Friday marks end of campaign

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, July 27 (Reuters) – Romania’s suspended president
Traian Basescu urged Romanians on Friday to boycott a July 29
referendum that polls show will remove him from office.

Basescu had initially urged Romanians to vote to defeat what
he called a coup d’etat, but his stance gradually shifted this
week when he and his Democrat Liberal allies said they were
increasingly concerned about the possibility of electoral fraud.

“I am asking Romanians not to participate in this referendum
behind which some irresponsible politicians are trying to hide a
coup,” Basescu told reporters at his headquarters on the last
day of the campaign.

He said he had reasons to suspect the ruling leftist Social
Liberal Union (USL) of Prime Minister Victor Ponta would try to
rig the vote, citing a longer voting period, unclear voter lists
that would make multiple votes easier and a government move to
set up extra voting polls in restaurants, bars and hotels.

Ponta’s USL suspended Basescu this month, saying the
rightist president had overstepped his powers. Basescu, in turn,
accused the USL of trying to stage a coup and take control of
independent institutions.

Basescu and anti-graft experts say Ponta’s rush to oust him
may be linked to a string of corruption investigations,
including the conviction of Adrian Nastase, a former prime
minister and mentor to Ponta.

Polls indicate Sunday’s vote will be in favour of impeaching
Basescu, who is deeply unpopular after of backing austerity
measures and accusations of cronyism, but turnout of at least
half the electorate is required to make the result valid.

The turnout requirement – set by a Constitutional Court
ruling which the USL initially tried to ignore – gives Basescu a
fighting chance, after the opposition Democrat Liberals also
asked their supporters not to vote.

That and timing – during what is traditionally a holiday
month – could cut turnout, which was 56 percent in local June
elections, below half.

Interim president Crin Antonescu, who co-runs the USL with
Ponta, said referendum preparations have been above board, and
asked Romanians to vote.

“The right to vote is citizens’ fundamental way of
participating,” he told reporters.

The USL and Ponta have had a dressing down from Brussels on
concerns about undermining the rule of law, intimidating judges
and removing officials in their bid to oust Basescu.

The government accuses Basescu of having undue influence
over the judiciary. Prosecutors have notched up a series of
convictions and the EU has demanded that it prosecute and jail
senior figures to prove it is serious about corruption.

The USL tried to change laws to its advantage and threatened
to replace Constitutional Court judges and limit the Court’s
powers before backing down. It also defied a court decision.

“I will not vote because the USL have tried to change
everything so that they could win,” said Adrian Oanta, a
21-year-old student after a rally in support of Basescu.

“Since they came to power they have done nothing to get
Romania out of the (economic) crisis,” he said.

Romania, hit hard by the debt crisis in the euro zone –
eastern Europe’s main trade and banking partner – remains the
European Union’s second-poorest member.