The Romanian government on Thursday adopted a decree modifying the threshold needed for the referendum on justice issues to be held in tandem with the European Parliament elections on May 26.
According to the modifications adopted by Prime Minister Viorica Dancila by decree, the referendum will only be valid if at least 30 per cent of those enrolled on the electoral register appear at polling stations.
Before the modifications were made, the referendum would have been valid if just 30 per cent of citizens were enrolled on the national voters’ lists.
The referendum on justice issues was launched on April 25 by President Klaus Iohannis and contains two questions: “Do you agree to ban amnesties and pardons for corruption offences?” and “Do you agree with the ban on the adoption by the government of emergency ordinances in the field of crimes, punishments and judicial organization and the extension of the right to appeal directly to the Constitutional Court?”
It follows numerous attempts by the Social Democrat-led government to water down anti-corruption laws and grant amnesties to those convicted of corruption.
Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said the modifications won’t in any way affect citizens’ right to vote.
“The act adopted today stipulates only the technical details which will ensure the correct, democratic and transparent electoral process,” she said.
The modifications to the referendum were made on the same day by the Permanent Electoral Authority, AEP, which has published a draft emergency ordinance for holding the referendum on Justice issues.
The document says public authorities cannot pronounce during the electoral campaign for or against the referendum. This includes President Iohannis, who initiated the popular consultation.
Another controversial change bases the validation threshold on the number of voters in the electoral register, not on permanent electoral lists. This means more voters will have to turn out at the referendum for the result to be valid.
President Iohannis urged the government on Tuesday not to make any more changes to the rules unless they are purely technical and necessary.
“I am a declared adversary of legislative changes on the election threshold. As a rule, the [ruling] Social Democrats do these things just to create some advantage for themselves, or create a disadvantage for their opponents,” Iohannis said.
Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea said he was not aware of the changes, or the complaints. “I do not know the subject so I cannot comment on it,” he said.
The influential news website ziare.com said it was clear the ruling PSD was doing its best to ensure the referendum failed.
“It is obvious that the PSD strategy is to invalidate the referendum by raising the threshold and preventing Iohannis from running an open campaign, which means that the Social Democrats will talk little about the referendum and all the less about its themes,” it wrote.
Romania will hold presidential elections on November or December 2019 when Iohannis is likely to seek a second mandate supported by the biggest centre-right opposition party, the National Liberal Party, PNL.
He is a bitter opponent of the PSD who leader Dragnea has long been pushing to modify the penal code and anti-corruption laws, mainly because so many PSD leaders are being, or have been, investigated in corruption-related cases.
Dragnea sees the referendum as a move by Iohannis to gain more popularity ahead of a future presidential campaign.
The Prime Minister’s decree comes on the same day as Romania was due on Thursday to host the informal summit of the European Council, an event where all the main leaders of the European Union will be present. Romania holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until June 2019.
Balkan Insight | May 8, 2019