By Anca Cretu - Global Minds | August 28, 2012 - 14:00 GMT
“Get out, you miserable dog!” For Romanian President Traian Basescu, this has been the recurrent chorus of the people publicly protesting against him. In January this year, Romania saw a minor resurgence of the revolutionary spirit of 1989. The riots of Bucharest were a surprising endeavor in a country often tagged as a place for resignation, acceptance and intrinsic idleness. For many, this was a response to austerity measures. But more importantly, this was a response to the further enrichment of the rich and the increased poverty of the poor. It was a response to an over-centralization of power and wealth, heavily exposed within the circles of the president. In this context, the last nine months represented a period of socio-political turmoil.
Since January 2012, Basescu's party, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) has slipped to less than 15 percent support in polls. Emil Boc's government stepped down in the aftermath of the January protests. The next government led by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu fell on 27 April, after losing a parliamentary vote of confidence. The current government, a result of political opposition to Traian Basescu, is led by Victor Ponta, head of the Social Democratic Party, part of the odd alliance between social-democrats and liberals, the Social-Liberal Union (USL). For many, this is an exceptionally negative vote towards PDL in a country where politicians are widely seen as corrupt individuals, driven by self-interest and with no coherent ideologies or policies. Political scientist Alina Mungiu Pippidi notes that "competitive clientelism rules in Romania, different cliques are engaged in a life-or-death battle to conquer the state in order to plunder it. Political parties in our young democracy are like medieval armies, whose recruits are not paid and live only from plunder. That explains the intensity of political battles, like the one we are now experiencing."
The growing bickering between Basescu and Ponta reached boiling point when the Prime Minister used his parliamentary majority to suspend the President. The grounds may seem weak, as the Constitution dictates that the head of state can be impeached only for grave illegal acts, but nothing in particular has been cited. In this context, the Constitutional Court ruled the referendum vote would be valid only with the participation of over 50 percent of the population. The European Commission, as well as US Ambassador in Bucharest Mark Gitenstein, and Phillip Gordon, Deputy to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, have voiced concerns over a number of decisions of the government: Ponta replaced the Ombudsman, seized control of the Monitorul Oficial (the official promulgator of laws and decrees), took over the national cultural institute and threatened the independence of the judges of the Constitutional Court. On the other hand, Ponta claims that he has freed the institutions from Basescu's corrupt influence. Even more so, throughout his suspension, Basescu repeatedly threatened to jail those who participated in this "coup d’etat,” and encouraged boycotts and non-participation at the referendum, an approach that his critics depicted as non democratic and authoritarian.
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