Two and a half years after his election, Romanian President Traian Basescu faces the ballot boxes once again. In a referendum on Saturday, the people will decide whether the former sailor can return to office, following his suspension last month by the Romanian parliament, which accused him of abusing his powers. On the eve of this critical vote, EuroNews spoke to Basescu about the challenge he faces.
EuroNews: Mr President, the current situation is a bit surprising. Four months after joining the European Union, the political agenda is dominated by the referendum concerning your suspension. What’s going on?
TB: There’s a whole sequence of factors that’s led to an eruption within the political class. Some things didn’t suit quite a few politicians: the condemnation of crimes committed under communism; one and a half million dossiers belonging to the old Securitate being transferred to the National Council studying the archives; and then the consolidation of the independence of the judiciary, which – and this is unprecedented – which has begun to investigate the activities of certain very important political figures. I am linked to these three initiatives.
EuroNews: Your supporters present your suspension as a crime of lèse-majesté. Aren’t you worried that there’s a danger here, that of undermining the foundations of democracy, represented by the parliament?
TB: Those who’ve hurt democracy are the 322 members of parliament themselves. If you look closely, the 322 come from five political parties. Just one thing unites them: fear of justice – the need to bring justice back under control.
EuroNews: Should we take it from that that the only party which doesn’t fear justice is the one that supports you, the Democratic Party?
TB: No, even the Democratic Party is affected by the prosecutors’ investigations. But… the Democratic Party knew how to stay true to its commitments to fight corruption.
EuroNews: Your confrontation with Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu looks like all or nothing – they’ll be a winner and a loser. What’s at issue?
TB: What’s at issue is the conflict between two different visions of Romania. The Prime Minister is someone who has made representations directly to the judiciary, to the justice minister, to the Attorney General, to me personally, to parliament.
Whereas I’m someone who says: “The judiciary should be shielded from all political intervention.”
EuroNews: The Romanian press has nevertheless observed that you too are supported by certain business circles.
TB: No. That’s a fabrication put about by media groups that belong to the oligarchy. I’ve not promised laws in favour of anyone. I never intervened so that someone or other wins a contract, I’ve never protected anyone.
EuroNews: At the end of the day if the justice system is effective it will have the last word.
TB: That’s right. So long as no-one interferes with it, so long as it’s not subjected to political control, as was the case prior to 2004.
EuroNews: The crisis has been incubating for some time. Why did it only come to a head after entry into the European Union?
TB: I don’t know, maybe it was a tactic by the five parties who joined together to plot the removal of the justice minister Monica Macovei and the suspension of the President. They understood that after the objective “1st of January 2007” had been reached, nothing could be made to wait any more. They chose to go for a political strike.
EuroNews: It’s the parliament that suspended you, but still, it’s called on the citizens to decide via the ballot box…
TB: Yes, the ballot box.
EuroNews: … so why are you frightened? The opinion polls say you are still popular.
TB: I’m not frightened. It’s they who should be frightened. For me, going to the electorate is something I’ve sought to do since 2005, when I called for early elections.
EuroNews: It’s the day after the referendum, the people have given you the keys back to the Presidential palace. How now will you carry out your functions as President of Romania?
TB: In the same way. I won’t renege on my commitments and I won’t betray the Romanian people in return for a quiet life.
EuroNews: Will it be possible to work alongside Prime Minister Tariceaunu after May the 20th?
TB: The problem isn’t Prime Minister Tariceaunu, the problem is the 322 members of parliament. They represent a considerable political force which controls parliament and which must accept not to drag the nation down but to be at its head leading it towards its goals.
EuroNews: Politics is about making what’s necessary possible.
TB: That’s what I’m doing.
EuroNews: What’s necessary for Romania to get out of the current political stalemate?
TB: What happens after May the 20th is extremely important. It depends on whether we the politicians decide we want a Romania that’s no longer tarnished by the defects of the transitional period.
If they are perpetuated, Romania will continue to go forward nonetheless, but it will go forward in an injust manner. It wil go forward in the wrong way.
EuroNews: You return to the job but the constitution stays the same. Will it be possible for you to change anything in Romanian politics?
TB: Yes madam, I am convinced. On May the 19th the Romanian people will decide who is right: either the 322 members of Parliament or the President of Romania. We can no longer call ourselves a democracy if the vote of the Romanian electorate is not taken into account.
EuroNews: Mr President, thank you.
TB: It’s my pleasure.