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A New Test for the Romanian Constitutional Court

Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University

The Romanian Constitutional Court has played a key role in blocking the efforts by the new government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to bring all institutions of state under the control of his governing coalition.  At the moment, the Court is under extreme pressure to certify last week’s referendum results, which would remove the president of the country from office.  

Right after the referendum, the Electoral Commission found that the turnout for the referendum was not sufficient to oust the president, because the constitutional court in a decision several weeks ago set a 50% threshold for validity of such a referendum and the turnout was only 46%.   President Basescu had urged his supporters to boycott the referendum precisely to avoid being removed from office, as polls (and the referendum results themselves) show him to be deeply unpopular.   But in addition to the missed turnout threshold, early analyses of the official results of the referendum posted to the Electoral Commission’s website shows that turnout was well over 100% in areas controlled by the Ponta’s party, raising questions of voter fraud.  

Since the referendum took place, the Court has been asked by the government to “update” the official number of registered voters by using numbers that the government will provide as it frantically attempts to do an impromptu head count of all existing voters in the middle of August.   If the Court agrees to change the total number of registered voters, this could have the effect of making the actual turnout meet the threshold.  Under pressure, the Court postponed its decision in the matter until 31 August.   

In the meantime, the judges issued another plea for help to the European Commission Friday, describing publicly for the first time the death threats they have gotten and the fear under which they are living as they attempt to do their work.


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