Constitution draft troubles political waters in Romania

Constitution draft troubles political waters in Romania


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The ruling coalition in Bucharest is again at loggerheads with the Romanian presidency over a draft constitution which is likely to fuel another political crisis in Bucharest, only a year after the worst such deadlock in post-communist Romania.

The ruling social-liberal union (USL) aims to pass a new Constitution which will first of all meant to consecrate the new administrative of the country. The government seeks to turn the currently 41 counties into 7 or 8 economic regions, a move destined to fast-track absorption of European funds.

But the debates in the Parliament which is widely controlled by USL over the new amendments also touch on political issues which have raised many eyebrows in Bucharest. First, the presidential prerogatives are consistently reduced, with the bulk of powers passing to the head of the government. This scenario has infuriated President Traian Basescu.

“The President’s attributions are so much curtailed that I tend to believe that there must be some sort of a dirty deal which is reflected in the new Constitution” Basescu said. “You cannot have an elected president and use him as a clown, a president who can only propose the heads of the intelligence services but which the Parliament can always reject” he added.

When saying “dirty deal”, Basescu implied a possible agreement between the USL leaders, Victor Ponta, the social-democrat PM, and Crin Antonescu, the liberal speaker of the Senate. The Romanian media speculated the two traded the future man political positions in the country, with Ponta, who runs the main party of the coalition, getting the PM position, and Antonescu receiving the presidential portfolio. Even with cut powers, Antonescu wants to make sure he is supported by the coalition partners for the 2014 presidential bid amid a decline in popularity.

But Basescu threw the glove and called for a new referendum to be held in order to downsize the Parliament from 588 lawmakers, as is the case now, to merely 300 and turn into a mono-cameral legislative, an idea which is strongly rejected by the ruling coalition. In November 2009, in the first round of the presidential elections narrowly won then by Basescu, a parallel referendum was held with regard to reducing the number of the Romanian lawmakers. Most of the Romanians were in favor of the two proposals – 300 lawmakers and one single chamber Parliament – and the referendum was validated.

Basescu argues a smaller Parliament is more effective since parties do not afford to forward candidates who are not politically responsible. But its results were never applied to Basescu’s frustration and the ruling coalition refuses to include them in the new constitutional draft. “Total disappointment”, Ponta reacted when asked about Basescu’s proposal to hold a new referendum.

The new political front opened around the constitution draft is likely to expand in the months to come since USL seeks to push its agenda in the Parliament where a divided opposition is left to simply watch and not to act. The new dissents erupt after a couple of months during which both the President and the PM avoided direct confrontation on the basis of a cohabitation agreement they signed early this year under vivid scrutiny from the EU which doesn’t want to be forced to mediate a new political row in Bucharest.