Category Archives: Romania

Romania – Law makes it easier to remove the president from office

In Romania, a law has been passed that makes it easier to remove the president from office.

The law relates to Art. 95 of the Constitution, which states:

“(1) In case of having committed grave acts breaching on provisions of the Constitution, the President of Romania may be suspended from office by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, in joint session, by a majority vote of Deputies and Senators, and after consultation with the Constitutional Court. The President may explain before Parliament with regard to imputations brought against him.

(2) The proposal of suspension from office may be initiated by at least one third of the number of Deputies and Senators, and the President shall be immediately notified thereof.

(3) If the proposal of suspension from office has been approved, a referendum shall be held within thirty days, in order to remove the President from office.”

The key point is that the third clause does not give any details of the referendum. Therefore, a law is required to establish the details of the vote. Previously, the referendum law required an absolute majority of registered voters to support the suspension motion in order for the president to be dismissed. However, the referendum law has now been changed such that henceforth it requires the support of merely a majority of those voting, thus making it easier to remove the president.

This change takes place in the context of a period of cohabitation. This has led to accusations that the governing majority is preparing a bill to suspend President Băsescu. In addition, it should be remembered that President Băsescu was suspended according to Art. 95 during a previous period of cohabitation in 2007. There was a referendum and even though there was a strong vote not to dismiss him, the turnout was only 45%. So, even if there had been a ‘yes’ vote, it would not have been valid with that turnout. This result seems to be in the government’s mind.

The opposition is likely to submit the bill to the Constitutional Court.

There is a report here.

Romania – Protocol update

Further to a post a few days ago, the Romanian parliament approved a statement on Tuesday declaring that the government, and by extension the prime minister rather than the president, should attend the European Council meeting on Romania’s behalf at the end of the month.

The National News Agency is reporting that the parliament voted in favor of a statement by 249 votes to 30 with one abstention. In total, there are 481 seats in both houses combined. Therefore, the statement gained majority support. As is typical in Romania, when the opposition knows that it is going to lose, then it prefers not to take part in the vote at all.

President Băsescu has responded by insisting that the statement has no constitutional or legal force and by emphasizing Art. 80 of the Constitution, which states that “The President of Romania shall represent the Romanian State …”. So, the matter is not yet resolved. President Băsescu’s comments are available in Romanian here.

Romania – Who should attend EU meetings, the president or the PM?

This has become ‘protocol week’ on The Semi-presidential One.

There is now a period of cohabitation in Romania and there are first signs of problems between the president, Traian Băsescu, and the prime minister, Victor Ponta.

The Southeast European Times is reporting that there is a dispute between the president and the PM as to who should represent Romania at the forthcoming European Council on June 28th.

Apparently, President Băsescu attended an informal EU summit last week, but PM Ponta is now threatening to reconvene parliament to determine who should represent Romania. It is not clear on what grounds parliament would decide. The issue may also go to the Constitutional Court. However, SETimes is reporting that Augustin Zegrean, the head of the Constitutional Court, has said that Băsescu should represent the country. Justice Zegrean was appointed by President Băsescu.

The dilemma is a classic one. Given the EU affects domestic policy, shouldn’t the PM attend? However, the EU is an international organisation and the president attends international meetings. So, shouldn’t the president attend?

Romania – Electoral reform

Guest Post
Cristina Bucur – PhD Candidate, Dublin City University

Last Tuesday, Romania’s Chamber of Deputies approved several changes to the electoral law which, if signed by the president, would introduce a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system at national level. The bill was initiated by Victor Ponta (the new prime minister and PSD leader) and Crin Antonescu (the PNL leader and coalition partner of the PSD) and had already been passed by the Senate on May 8, 2012.

Romania adopted a mixed-member proportional system in 2008 under which voters cast ballots in single-member constituencies in order to elect 315 deputies and 137 senators. The country is divided in 42 administrative counties, with a 43rd constituency dedicated to the Romanian citizens living abroad. Each of the 42 counties is divided into several single-member constituencies depending on the number of inhabitants of each constituency. The special constituency for the Romanian citizens living abroad consists of four constituencies for the Chamber of Deputies and two for the Senate. Overall, there are 452 single-member constituencies, 315 for the election of deputies and 137 for the election of senators.

The current mixed electoral system combines a single round of voting in single-member constituencies with a complicated system of seat allocation for parties that surpass an electoral threshold of 5%. Only those candidates who win over 50% of the votes in single-member constituencies are automatically elected. The remaining seats are distributed among the political parties first at the county level (using the Hare quota) and then at the national level (according to the d’Hondt method), provided they pass the threshold. An exception to this rule is made for parties which do not surpass the threshold, but manage to win at least six constituencies in the elections to the Chamber of Deputies or three constituencies in the elections to the Senate. In practice, this complex system of redistribution of seats sometimes resulted in the election of candidates ranked third or even fourth, while candidates ranked second in the same constituencies failed to win a seat.

The new electoral bill introduces two key changes. First of all, the element of proportional allocation of seats is completely removed at both county and national level and so is the electoral threshold. Nothing is supposed to change in the drawing of the 42 counties (plus the special constituency for the Romanian diaspora) and in the rules of their division into single-member constituencies. Thus, voters will cast ballots in the same 452 single-member constituencies across the country and elect the same number of deputies and senators. As a result, this system does seem to resemble the UK-style first-past-the-post, single-member plurality system. However, there is a twist for the representation of minorities. Every ethnic group that exceeds 7% of total population at the county level and that does not win a seat in any of the single-member constituencies in the county in question will still receive a seat for their best-placed candidate in the county. For example, even if none of the candidates of the Hungarian minority manages to win a seat in those counties where they exceed 7% of the population, the one who is best placed among them in that county will win a seat, which will be added to the number of seats that would normally result from the number of single-member constituencies allocated to the respective county. However, the same rule also applies to the Romanian candidates if none of them wins a seat in those counties where the Hungarians hold a majority. A side-effect of this change is that the number of deputies may increase due to the addition of such ‘wild-card’ seats. However, the electoral bill limits this increase to a maximum of 10 new mandates. Although this is seen as a concession made to the Hungarian minority, the Hungarian UDMR abstained from the vote on Tuesday and declared their opposition to the introduction of a majoritarian electoral system.

President Basescu’s PDL party, which is now in opposition after the PDL-UDMR-UNPR government lost a no-confidence vote last April, opposes the change. As a result, they plan to send the bill to the Constitutional Court. In any case, the bill cannot enter into effect until it is signed by President Basescu himself. It might be remembered that Romania is currently experiencing a period of cohabitation. Furthermore, the president also has several options at hand if he wishes to delay the promulgation of the bill. He may choose to exercise his veto and ask the parliament to reconsider it (Art. 77) or he can send it to the Court unless somebody else does that first (Art. 146). However, if the Court does not declare the bill unconstitutional or if the parliament overturns a presidential veto by passing the law again, he will have no other choice than to sign it.

The first elections under the new system are scheduled for November this year.

Cohabitation – Romania

This is a series of posts that records the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet. Presidents classed as non-party cannot generate any periods of cohabitation.

Here is my list of cohabitations in Romania:

Apr 2007- Dec 2008
President – Traian Băsescu (PD/PD-L); PM – Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu (PNL); Coalition – PNL, UDMR

May 2012-
President – Traian Băsescu (PD/PD-L); PM – Victor Ponta (PSD); Coalition – PSD, PNL

The situation in Romania is unusual. The president’s party was in the governing coalition after the 2004 election. However, it left the government in April 2007 at the time when President Băsescu was being impeached by parliament with support from members of the PNL. Thus, cohabitation began part way through a legislature and without an election occurring.

Exactly the same scenario occurred in May 2012. This time the ruling coalition, which included the president’s party, was defeated in a confidence motion. The opposition formed a government without the president’s party, thus beginning another period of cohabitation without an election having taken place.

Romania and São Tomé & Príncipe are the only cases where cohabitation has begun outside an election (presidential or legislative).

Party abbreviations:

PD-L (Democratic Liberal Party)
PNL (National Liberal Party)
PSD (Social Democratic Party)
UDMR (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania)

Romania – Government loses no-confidence vote

In Romania, the government of Prime Minister Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu lost a vote of no-confidence on Friday.

A vote of no-confidence needs the support of an absolute majority of all deputies and senators combined, or 231 votes.

The motion on Friday was a general one entitled ‘’Stop the Blackmail-Prone Government! Never This Way!’. The government is a coalition of President Traian Băsescu’s Democratic Liberal party (PDL) and the Hungarian UDMR party. The motion was lodged by the opposition Social Democrats (PSD) and National Liberals (PNL).

According to Agerpress, the no-confidence motion obtained 235 votes. So, the government has fallen.

Immediately, President Băsescu held discussions with all the parliamentary groups. President Băsescu has now designated the leader of the PSD, Victor Ponta, as the PM-designate.

The investiture vote will take place on 7 May. Art. 103-3 of the Constitution states that “The programme and list of the Government shall be debated upon by the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, in joint session. Parliament shall grant confidence to the Government by a majority vote of Deputies and Senators.”

If the investiture vote is successful, then presumably this will bring about a period of cohabitation as the PDL is unlikely to be part of the coalition. In this event, this will be the second time that Romania has experienced cohabitation. For the previous cohabitation, also under President Băsescu, see here.

Romania – New government wins confidence vote

In Romania, PM-designate Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu won a vote of confidence last Thursday.

He needed the support of 232 deputies and senators. He received 237 votes. The opposition absented itself from the vote. So, there were only two votes against.

The names and party affiliations of the government ministers are available here.

So, despite my thoughts to the contrary, the new government has been appointed.

Romania – PM resigns

The Romanian Prime Minister, Emil Boc, resigned yesterday. As reported in a previous post, the government had been facing ongoing protests about both particular issues as well as the general economic situation. There is a nice overview at SETimes here.

President Băsescu has nominated Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu as the new PM. He is a former Foreign Minister and prior to being nominated he was the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

PM-designate Ungureanu now has 10 days to win the confidence of parliament. Art. 103 (3) states: “Parliament shall grant confidence to the Government by a majority vote of Deputies and Senators.”

Having sensed that the Boc government might be about to fall, I have another sense that the confirmation of PM-designate Ungureanu may not go wholly smoothly.

Romania – Government under pressure

Romania figures prominently in this blog, which is never a good sign! In that context, the current situation there is worth keeping an eye on.

There have been anti-government protests for the last week, some of which SETimes reports have turned violent.

There has been discontent for some time. For example, public sector workers were forced to take a big pay cut in the summer. However, the current protests seem to have been sparked by the resignation of the Minister for Health, Raed Arafat, over a proposed health reform. There is a report here.

In response to the protests, PM Boc has withdrawn the reform and Minister Arafat has been reappointed. PM Boc has also announced the creation of a so-called Council of Economic Dialogue between the government and the opposition. My assessment is that such a reform is unlikely to assuage those who are opposed to the government. In addition, the PM has announced that parliament will reconvene for an extraordinary session on 23-24 January. Again, in my opinion such a move is unlikely to calm the situation.

Overall, there is a fin de gouvernement whiff about events in Romania. If I am right, then Romania would merely be added to the list of governments that have fallen because of the current economic crisis in Europe.

Romania – Government defeats no-confidence motion

In Romania, the government of PM Emil Boc has survived a motion of no-confidence.

Last week, PM Boc invoked Art. 114 of the Constitution and declared the bill on the merger of local and parliamentary elections in 2012 to be a matter of confidence. The bill would then have been passed automatically if the opposition had not tabled a motion of no-confidence.

The bill proposes to hold the 2012 local elections, which were scheduled to be held in spring, at the same time as the parliamentary elections, which are due in late November. The PM justified the reform as a cost-saving measure. The opposition believe that it will reduce their hoped-for gains at the local level.

The motion was debated yesterday. The motion required the support of an absolute majority of all deputies and senators sitting in a joint session, or 234 votes. Agerpress is reporting that the motion received just 209 votes and so failed. There is no need for deputies to vote in favour of the government.