Political turmoil deepens as Romanian prime minister postpones EP elections

photo3.jpgOver President Traian Basescu’s strong objections, the Liberal Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has postponed European Parliament elections until the second half of this year. An “inappropriate domestic political climate” would hamper serious debate on European issues in the campaign to elect 35 Romanian MEPs, Tariceanu said, citing opposition attempts to impeach the president as well as Basescu’s call for changes to the current voting system.

Most political analysts say the real reason is the drop in public support for the Liberals and the opposition parties, as shown in recent opinion polls. Embroiled in a political battle with the president, these parties have not been able to prepare themselves for the initial EP election date of May 13th. A likely defeat could have had serious political consequences both for Tariceanu and the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), Mircea Geoana.

The PSD hailed the postponement as “a rational decision”, while the ultra nationalist Greater Romania Party termed it a “responsible gesture”. But the Democrats, Tariceanu’s coalition partners, opposed the move. They accused Tariceanu of taking a “unilateral decision for the benefit of the PSD”.

Democratic Party ministers Vasile Blaga (Interior) and Monica Macovei (Justice) refused to endorse Tariceanu’s emergency move. They have been asked either to change their stance or leave the cabinet.

“A new majority has been taking form behind the scenes,” Basescu said, accusing the Liberals of “violating the main democratic principle of giving up your mandate when you no longer have the majority”.

Tariceanu’s cabinet lost its fragile majority in Parliament last December, but the ruling parties did not call then for early elections. Instead, a new coalition, described by some journalists as the “black rectangle”, has been emerging. The Greater Romania Party, the Social Democrats, and the Conservatives all say they are ready to support Tariceanu’s cabinet if he expels Basescu’s ministers.

Since mid-January, this heterogeneous coalition has been trying to impeach President Basescu and secure Macovei’s resignation. But she has the support of EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, and of the public. At the end of February, up to 1,000 Romanians braved the rain and cold at an anti-corruption rally in Bucharest, showing solidarity with the beleaguered minister.

Macovei is widely viewed as the main architect of the anticorruption drive that made Romania’s EU accession possible.

With former political allies fighting each other, and former adversaries becoming strange bedfellows, Romania’s political scene is in an uproar. Only weeks after EU accession, the rift in the government is making it all but impossible to continue with reforms and the fight against corruption.

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