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Romanians Reject Controversial Changes To Anti-Corruption Laws, Judicial Reforms

By RFE/RL's Romanian Service May 26, 2019

BUCHAREST -- Exit polls suggest Romanians have overwhelmingly rejected measures seen as making it more difficult to combat rampant state corruption.

The vote the May 26 nonbinding referendum was the first popularity test of Romanian voters on changes to the judiciary and to anti-corruption legislation that were made by Romania's ruling Social Democrats (PSD).

Centrist President Klaus Iohannis called for the referendum to be held alongside voting for the European Parliament on May 26.

Iohannis praised voters after polls closed with turnout of about 41 percent -- well above the 30 percent required to make the reference valid.

"The referendum succeeded with flying colors," Iohannis said, declaring that Romanians have spoken out against the attempts of the leftist PSD coalition to reverse anti-corruption reforms in one of the European Union's most corrupt countries.

"This is a clear vote for correct politics, for true justice," Iohannis said. "No politician can ignore your clear vote for an independent judiciary."

Earlier, when Iohannis called the referendum, he had said that "justice is a matter of national interest and the people have the right to decide whether or not they want corruption to become state policy."

Voters were asked two questions in the May 26 referendum.

The first was: "Do you support a ban on amnesty and pardon in cases related to corruption?"

The second question was: "Do you support 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?"

Thousands of Romanians protested in February after the leftist government passed without any public debate an emergency measure that critics said restricted prosecutors' independence.

The move was the latest in a series of legislative and personnel changes by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) since it took power two years ago that have raised EU and U.S. concerns about the rule of law in Romania.

The PSD was opposed to the referendum and pushed through a decree earlier in May that changed the threshold for the vote to be valid to needing turnout of 30 percent of those in the electoral register instead of 30 percent of those enrolled on the national voters' lists. The number of voters in the electoral register is more than 600,000 higher than in the lists.

Meanwhile, Romanian exit polls in the May 26 election for the European Parliament also showed the PSD falling sharply from the 45 percent of the vote it won in the last national ballot in 2016.

Both the PSD and the opposition centrist National Liberal Party were on track to win about 25 percent of the European Parliament vote, according to exit polls.

A new alliance of opposition parties, the USR-Plus, was close behind and on track to secure third place with about 24 percent of the vote.

Before the PSD-led coalition came to power two years ago, Bucharest had earned praise from the EU for its crackdown on corruption under the leadership of chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Koevesi, who was dismissed last year by the leftist government for alleged abuse of power.

Despite her dismissal, Koevesi in February earned the preliminary backing of a European Parliament committee to become the EU's first antifraud prosecutor.

However, in March she was summoned for a third hearing by a controversial Romanian investigative agency on charges of abuse of office, bribery, and false testimony -- accusations she has denied.

With reporting by Reuters and AP


Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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