BUCHAREST // Romania's unpopular president was fighting for his political life yesterday as Romanians voted on whether to impeach him.
The vote part was of a political battle that has raised questions about the rule of law in the fledgling European Union member. President Traian Basescu's rivals in the government are seeking to impeach him for the second time in five years. They claim the 60-year-old populist violated the constitution by meddling in government business, coddling cronies and using the secret services against enemies.
Mr Basescu, a former ship captain whose popularity has plummeted over economic challenges, says the impeachment process is a political vendetta carried out by opponents and has urged his supporters to boycott the vote - a tactic that may help him survive thanks to a rule requiring turnout to be more than half of the total electorate.
The political turmoil has dented Romania's credibility, with the US and EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government's respect for the independence of the judiciary. Critics accuse the prime minister, Victor Ponta, also the subject of a plagiarism scandal, of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab.
Polls opened at 7am and will close at 11pm with 18 million Romanians eligible to vote. Most are expected to vote to impeach Mr Basescu, but it is uncertain whether the government can muster the necessary turnout.
Mr Basescu, who has been president since 2004, saw his approval numbers drop after government introduced austerity measures in 2010 to meet demands by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a multibillion euro loan. The government cut public wages by one-fourth and raised sales tax to 24 per cent, one of the highest in the EU.
Mr Ponta says that Mr Basescu's confrontational style of governing and interfering in the justice system and government business are evidence that he is unfit for the job. He says that charges that he plagiarised his 2004 doctoral thesis are orchestrated by Mr Basescu's camp.