Romania parliament clears president's return to office
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's parliament accepted on Monday a court ruling to return the country's suspended president to office, drawing a line under a political row that has brought international criticism and punishment from financial markets.
The country's ruling leftist alliance, led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, had fought a long and often bitter campaign to oust its main political opponent, rightist President Traian Basescu, provoking condemnation from Brussels and Washington.
Parliament voted to suspend Basescu last month and an overwhelming majority of voters chose to impeach him in a referendum.
But Romania's Constitutional Court last week struck down the referendum because turnout was less than the required half the electorate.
Parliamentary speaker Valeriu Zgonea told reporters on Monday the leftist-dominated lower house recognized the ruling. "We cannot interfere (with), block or ... alter Constitutional Court decisions," he said.
The end of the political battle over Basescu's immediate political future will please international critics, who had accused the government of failing to respect the rule of law during its campaign.
But it sets the stage for a power struggle between the still bitterly opposed rightist president and leftist government in the countdown to a parliamentary election later this year.
Once Basescu, a bluff former oil tanker captain, returns to office he will reclaim his ability to delay, but not block, legislation.
The president also has the job of appointing prime ministers after an election. That could put him in a powerful position if Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) fails to win an outright parliamentary majority.
Basescu has been in office since 2004 and is unpopular because of his association with austerity measures, including salary cuts and raising sales tax, and perceptions of cronyism.
Ponta's government has lost some support over its failed attempt to remove Basescu, polls have shown. But it is still on course to win the vote.
The court's ruling must now be published in Romania's official record before Basescu can return to office, possibly as soon as Monday evening.
During the political struggle, the government had threatened to remove Constitutional Court judges or limit its powers, before backing down under pressure from Brussels.
Analysts said the battle reflected a broader struggle for power and control of the judicial system in a country where corruption is rampant and 19 members of parliament from Ponta's alliance are under investigation.
The leu currency has recovered some ground from all-time lows hit during the failed impeachment process, but is still weaker than its regional peers.
The widespread international criticism also raised doubts over Romania's 5 billion euro ($6.26 billion)International Monetary Fund-led aid deal.
($1 = 0.7990 euros)
(Additional reporting by Sam Cage)