POLITICS

Romania, under the sign of referendums. The stakes of Iohannis’s referendum vs. PSD’s strategy

President Klaus Iohannis and PSD leader Liviu Dragnea are engaged in a “war of referendums.” The Head of State was the first to announce the holding of a plebiscite. On Monday evening, Iohannis announced he wants a referendum on the changes brought to the judiciary laws, and on Tuesday morning he sent to the Speakers of the Lower Chamber and the Senate the letter in which he points out he wants to consult Parliament on the holding of a referendum. Consulting Parliament is mandatory, but the referendum can go forward even if the legislative issues a negative report.

PSD President Liviu Dragnea struck back and announced that the Social Democrats are planning to hold two referendums, one on the topic of the traditional family and one on the topic of eliminating immunities, including the Romanian President’s immunity. It is worth recalling that during the presidential elections campaign Klaus Iohannis promised that one of the first things he would do as president would be to hold a referendum on the lifting of immunities, including the President’s immunity.

PSD’s Dragnea: We have nothing against referendum, we must first see its opportuneness

Lower Chamber Speaker and Social Democratic Party (PSD) President Liviu Dragnea on Tuesday said he will analyse the “opportuneness” of organising the referendum announced by President Klaus Iohannis, specifying that “we too support fight against corruption.”

“As for the referendum, I’ll read tomorrow the President’s address (…) Haven’t got to the Lower Chamber today. And I’ll talk to Mr. Tariceanu. From where I stand, we too support the fight against corruption. It’s not very clear to me why such a question should be put, but we too support this. We have nothing against the referendum,” Dragnea said at the PSD headquarters.

When asked whether he will quickly answer President Iohannis’s letter on the referendum, Dragnea said he first has to talk with his colleagues in Parliament.

“We must see the opportuneness of it, because yes, (…) we all support this fight against corruption, but what happens if the people don’t turn out to vote and the referendum is not validated? Does that mean that (…) Romanians do not support the fight against corruption? I don’t know how the president thought of it. But hopefully he is not part of this war there is talk about. On our part, there is no war, we are doing nothing against the president. We are trying to keep to our governing as much as possible. Should he continue the attacks or threats against us, then we’ll see what we’ll do,” added Dragnea.

In case the three referendums do take place on separate dates, the costs would total around RON 300 million, or EUR 67 million, if we use as reference point the cost of the last referendum held in 2012, a presidential impeachment referendum that cost approximately RON 100 million.

On Tuesday, President Klaus Iohannis stated that the cost of the referendum should have been considered by those who came up with the overture that led to the triggering of the popular consultation procedures on the fight against corruption topic. The President’s statement was a reply to Interior Minister Carmen Dan, who deemed that the plebiscite would cost a lot and Romania has other priorities.

 

Six referendums in post-1989 Romania, 2012 referendum cost EUR 20 million

 

Thirteen referendums have been held in Romania so far. Six of them were held after the 1989 Revolution and concerned the amendment of the Constitution (1991 and 1993), the impeachment of President Traian Basescu (2007 and 2012), the introduction of the uninominal voting system and the lowering of the number of lawmakers. The most expensive one was the 2012 referendum, which cost over EUR 20 million, RomaniaTV informs.

 

1991

 

Six referendums have been held in Romania since 1989, and the bill has been far from negligible. Thus, the first post-1989 referendum was held on 8 December 1991. It led to the adoption of a new Constitution, necessary after the December 1989 Revolution which swept away the communist dictatorship. The new Constitution was approved by 77.3 percent of voters. With its coming into force, the 21 August 1965 Constitution was fully abrogated (Article 149 of the Constitution).

 

2003

 

The second referendum took place on 18-19 October 2003 and concerned the adoption of constitutional amendments. The most important novelties concerned setting Romanian legislation in line with European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation regulations, in order for some prerogatives to be exercised jointly with the two international bodies, two articles being included under the “Euro-Atlantic Integration” heading (Article 1451 and 1452). Establishing a five-year presidential term (Article 83, paragraph 1) and introducing a paragraph which stipulates that the president cannot revoke the prime minister (Article 106, paragraph 11) were among the amendments brought to the 1991 Constitution.

The referendum had a cost of ROL 223 billion, or RON 22.3 million.

 

2007

 

The next plebiscite was held on 19 May 2007. Voters were consulted on the impeachment of President Traian Basescu. The impeachment procedures started on 18 January 2007, when PSD accused Traian Basescu of breaking the Constitution. In its April 17 report, the Constitutional Court argued against the impeachment, pointing out that the incriminated actions did not break the Constitution. Nevertheless, on 19 April 2007, Parliament decided to suspend Traian Basescu, with 322 votes in favour, 108 against and 10 abstentions. The suspension came into force on 20 April 2007, after the Constitutional Court took note of the Romanian Parliament’s decision. The voter turnout stood at 44.45 percent and 74.48 percent of the voters voted against the impeachment.

The Government earmarked RON 60 million (around EUR 18 million) for this referendum.

 

2007

 

Up next was the plebiscite of 25 October 2007, which was held two days after President Traian Basescu signed the decree on the holding of a referendum on the introduction of the uninominal voting system. The referendum was held on the day of the European Parliament elections. Thus, Romanian voters were asked to give a yes-or-no answer to the following question: “Do you agree that, beginning with the next elections that will be held for the Romanian Parliament, all lawmakers will be elected in single-member constituencies, based on a two-round majority vote?”

The nationwide voter turnout stood at 26.51 percent. 81.36 percent of voters voted YES, 16.17 percent voted NO and 2.46 percent of the votes were cancelled. Based on the final results, 4,851,470 voters cast their ballots. On 29 November 2007, the Constitutional Court noted that “of the total number of 18,296,459 voters registered, 4,851,470 persons cast their ballots, a number insufficient for the referendum to be declared valid, in line with the provisions of Article 5, Paragraph 2 of Law no.3/2000 on the holding of referendums, with subsequent amendments and supplements.” A turnover of fifty percent plus one was needed for the referendum to be validated.

The sum allocated for this referendum stood at RON 47.3 million (EUR 13.5 million). The funds were placed at the disposal of the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Special Telecommunications Service, the Government General Secretariat and the National Statistics Institute. The funds were allocated from the Government’s Budget Reserve Fund.

 

2009

 

The fifth referendum was held on 22 November 2009 and concerned the switch from a bicameral legislature (137 members of the Senate and 334 members of the Lower Chamber) to a unicameral legislature (up to 300 MPs).  50.95 percent of voters, namely 9,320,240 of the total number of 18,293,277 voters, cast their ballots at the referendum which was held on the day of the presidential elections. According to the Central Electoral Bureau, 77.78 percent of voters were in favour of the switch to a unicameral legislature, while 22.22 percent were not. At the same time, 88.84 percent of Romanians were in favour of lowering the number of MPs to a maximum of 300, while 11.16 percent were not. Thus, the referendum was validated.

The referendum on a unicameral legislature cost RON 6.52 million (around EUR 1.15 million), because it was held on the day of the presidential elections.

 

2012

 

The most recent referendum, the sixth since 1989, was held on 29 July 2012 and concerned the impeachment of President Traian Basescu. Asked to give an answer to the question “Do you agree with the impeachment of Romanian President Traian Basescu,” 87.52 percent of the voters voted in favour of the impeachment, while 11.15 percent voted against. Since the voter turnout threshold (50 percent plus 1) was not reached, the turnout standing at just 46.24 percent, the referendum was invalidated by the Constitutional Court on 21 August 2012.

The budget earmarked by the Government for this referendum stood at RON 95.9 million (around EUR 21 million). The funds were spent on tallying the votes, organising the electoral bureaus, organising the electoral process and paying the indemnities for the members of the electoral bureaus. The funds were earmarked from the Budget Reserve Fund for the main institutions involved in holding the referendum, namely the Interior Ministry, the Standing Electoral Authority, the Foreign Ministry, the Government’s General Secretariat and the Special Communications Service.

 

What are the stakes of Iohannis’s referendum?

 

President Klaus Iohannis has triggered a national referendum on the continuation of the fight against corruption. Sociologist Marius Pieleanu claims, for STIRIPESURSE.RO, that the real stake of this referendum consists of Klaus Iohannis’s political rebranding and is a decisive battle for a second term in office. Pieleanu considers that Iohannis will have very high chances of winning a second term if he manages to mobilise the population for this referendum. On the other hand, if he fails to do so then PSD will have the upper hand and will be able to win the presidential elections in 2019. Precisely because of this, PSD’s goal is not to mobilise the electorate.

“President Klaus Iohannis is certainly in an exercise of political rebranding. We’ve had two important moments featuring President Klaus Iohannis last week, one of them being his presence at the Government meeting, which was unannounced and meant to suddenly stir the public’s interest in the emergency ordinance on the granting of pardons and in him, because he had been overshadowed since December 11. The second moment was his presence at the protest in University Square. It was for the first time in history when a president took part in a protest against the Government he had just confirmed and, moreover, in an unauthorised protest.

“Of course, from the standpoint of Romanians’ day-to-day agenda, a referendum on the continuation of the fight against justice [sic] and ensuring the integrity of public office is nonsense because Romanians have entirely different priorities on their daily agenda, others than those debated by the press and in the public space. In my opinion, if the referendum is organised, validating the topic of the referendum won’t be a problem, because 90 percent of the people will vote in favour of the continued fight against corruption. You and I, everyone wants the fight against corruption to continue. It’s as if you were to ask Romanians if they want their living standards to improve. To such a question, obviously, everyone would answer ‘yes.’ The problem will be validating this referendum, because the interest is not very great and we need a turnout of 30 percent, namely a little over six million people. It’s pretty difficult to mobilise people to cast their ballots on a topic that at any rate does not spark unusual interest.

“If the president fails to bring six million people to the ballot box, then his chances of winning a new term are minimal. In my opinion, the goal of this referendum is to rebrand the president and to prepare for the second term. Given the massive slump the president is registering, his chances of winning a new term – especially if PSD nominates a personality – are very low. Surely, Cotroceni’s analysts have reached the same conclusions and an attempt is being made now to reinvigorate the president, especially since he is halfway through his term. On the other hand, if the president manages to bring six million people to the ballot box, then his chances of winning a second term are very high. PSD, no matter whom it nominates, would not be able to handle him and Klaus Iohannis will easily win a second term.

“Obviously, PSD’s interest will be not to potentiate this referendum too much, but they won’t be able to say people should stay home either. Without PSD’s electorate, it is difficult, almost impossible to reach the 30 percent threshold for the referendum. Basically, the stake of this referendum is who will win the presidential office in 2019. This is the big stake and all actors involved have understood this,” sociologist Marius Pieleanu told stiripesurse.ro.

Pieleanu also emphasises the consequences such a referendum would have at international level and claims that “it looks really bad in the eyes of international observers.”

“I would like to bring to your attention another aspect. How will international partners see the fact that Romania is holding a referendum on the continuation of the fight against corruption. The fight against corruption is the top prerogative of a democratic state, it is a state’s duty to fight corruption. How will international partners look at Romania, a state that must ask its citizens through a referendum whether they still want it to fight corruption. Klaus Iohannis is risking a lot and is putting Romania in a very poor light in front of European partners, who from now on may see Romanian in a different light. They may no longer see us as a state that has made significant progress and may see us instead as a state with problems similar to the problems of African states.”

 

 

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