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Romanian President calls referendum on voting laws

Romanian President Traian Basescu called a national referendum to ask citizens to overhaul the voting system to reduce corruption after the country joined the European Union.

Basescu said he wants the referendum to change the Constitution to allow citizens to vote for lawmakers by name rather than for party lists. Currently, Romanians vote for a party and the party's leadership selects its winning candidates. „Romanians don't generally trust Romanian political institutions and this is a clear sign that we need profound change in the political class,” Basescu said in a speech to parliament yesterday.
He said a direct vote would reduce corruption by making politicians more accountable. Romania has been warned by the EU, which it joined on January 1, to fight corruption, in part to prepare viable projects to receive as much as €32 billion ($42 billion) in EU funding through 2013. Basescu didn't say when the referendum could be held.
Basescu also said government attempts to fight corruption have had some effect because „there is a state of nervousness among some politicians because a telephone call to prosecutors or judges no longer works,” he said.

Last March, Romania passed a law letting prosecutors extend corruption probes to legislators and ministers, who could claim immunity before. Prosecutors in the past year have also started criminal probes against businessmen and politicians, in some cases placing them under preventative arrest. Mircea Geoana, the president of the Social Democrat Party, the main opposition group, said Basescu's call for a referendum was „a cheap trick” to divert attention from fighting within the ruling coalition.
The main ruling coalition members, the Democratic Party, which supports Basescu, and Prime Minister Tariceanu's National Liberal Party have intensified criticism of each other in recent months, forcing the ouster of some members of government and leading some politicians to call for early elections. Geoana also said in comments broadcast from parliament yesterday that the referendum would serve as a test of Basescu's leadership. (Bloomberg)