Romania’s ruling coalition lowers legal threshold for referendums

Romania’s ruling coalition lowers legal threshold for referendums


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Social-Liberal Union (USL), the two party ruling coalition in Bucharest, passed a new law today to bring the legal minimum threshold necessary for validating a national referendum from 50 per cent plus one to merely 30 per cent.

With 221 votes against 73, the Chamber of Deputies, Romanian Parliament’s lower chamber, passed the new law today. The President has to sign the bill into law to become effective.

The new draft law carries a heavy political weight since last year the two parties fail to remove President Traian Basescu from office following an impeachment referendum which failed to reach the legal threshold of 50 plus per cent of the registered voters. In July 2012, about 47 per cent of the Romanian voters showed up to have their say concerning Basescu’s impeachment, only three per cent short of the legal minimum turnout.

Even though 87 per cent of the voters voted in favor of impeaching Basescu, Romania’s Constitutional Court invalidated the referendum due to the turnout failing to reach the legal threshold. Basescu, who went through a similar impeaching procedure in 2007, was soon reinstated, to the ruling coalition’s political frustration.

The opposition grouped around the democrat-liberals, Basescu’s party, opposed the new bill and asked for re-evaluation by the Parliament’s specialty committees, a proposal which was rejected by the large social-liberal majority. In return, the democrat-liberals said they would file a complaint to the Constitutional Court.

The new bill says a referendum can be validated if 30 per cent of the registered voters show up at the ballots, unlike the 50 per cent plus one as the law currently stipulates. Moreover, the results of the referendum are validated if the favorable votes count for 25 per cent of the registered voters.

Other than a renewed attempt to remove Basescu from power, which is highly unlikely to happen again since the EU heavily criticized last year’s ensuing political crisis, the biggest stake of the new law is to easily ensure the passage of a new Constitution which USL also has in sight. The new fundamental law would seriously curb the powers of the head of the state and would introduce a new regional division of the country with a view to ease EU funds absorption.

Anyway, the draft law was rushed through the Parliament, unlike other bills which sometimes drag on for months or years till they reach the voting session which gives a glimpse of the political stake it carries. The bill was submitted on 16 April in the Senate, approved on 21 May, and then sent to the Chamber of Deputies which has given it the green light today.