BUCHAREST, Romania – Romania's constitutional court ruled Tuesday that a referendum on whether to oust the country's president had failed because the minimum voter threshold was not reached, clearing the way for Traian Basescu to return to his post. But comments from a top government official calling Basescu "an illegitimate president" suggested that the power struggles in the eastern European country were by no means over.
Basescu was suspended by parliament in July on grounds that he had overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the country's judicial system. He denied any committing any serious violation of the ex-communist nation's constitution.
The national referendum on whether the president could stay in power was held July 29, and while most voters wanted to oust him, the court ruled that the 50 percent turnout threshold was not achieved.
The court's ruling came after the left-leaning government argued that the electorate had shrunk and thus the necessary threshold for the vote was reached. A few hundred people gathered in a main Bucharest square Tuesday evening to protest the ruling.
Basescu's rival, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, said the government would respect the court's decision. "I want to send a signal of stability to Romanians," he said.
But the country's acting president, Crin Antonescu, said that despite the respect for the decision, Basescu "returns as an illegitimate president."
The U.S and the European Union have expressed concern about Romania's commitment to the rule of law and the independence of judicial institutions during the impeachment procedure. Romania, which threw off communism during a bloody revolt more than 20 years ago, joined the EU in 2007.
The U.S. Embassy said the court's decision "speaks for itself."
There was no immediate word from Basescu, a center-right president whose popularity has sunk in recent years as Romania's economy has struggled. His five-year term expires in 2014, while parliamentary elections are set for November.
The national currency, the leu, which has plummeted to record lows during the six-week political crisis, recovered slightly after the court's ruling.