It’s a funny thing about Wikipedia – if journalists misunderstand something, Wikipedia, following its own conventions about “reputable sources”, will repeat the misunderstanding because it is was printed in that reputable source.
Here we have the Associated Press – which is a slam dunk “reputable source” for Wikipedia – arguing that Romania is about to impeach its president. The problem is, it is not about to do that. The Romanian Parliament has temporarily suspended President Traian Basescu, and is resorting to a vote to make that suspension more permanent. But this procedure is not “impeachment” according to the Romanian constitution, and this is important, because the constitution describes a second, different procedure as “impeachment” – which would require proof of treason.
I am commenting on this case as the third in what seems a continuing line of phony “coups” in world politics in the past few years. First Honduras had one of these in 2009, then Paraguay this year (actually just a few weeks ago), and now Romania. I fear that the meaning of the word “coup” is now being cheapened, it is being used so many times when there has been no such thing.
In Honduras, a section of the constitution forbids a sitting president from publicly advocating changing presidential term limits so that he can succeed himself, and specifically states the president shall be removed from office if he does advocate changing those limits. President Manuel Zelaya publicly advocated having a referendum allowing himself to serve another term. That was in clear violation, so the Constitutional Court removed him. The law was clear on this, but the rest of the world, not having fully accepted Honduras as a country where the rule of law was stable, cried coup…especially other Latin American countries. Wikipedia, because most “reputable sources” described what happened in Honduras as a coup, also did so. It was not, and the law Zelaya violated makes this very clear. But Wikipedia is going to go with the journalists – even when they’re wrong. To this day, the relevant page on Wikipedia refers to this as a “coup” and buries any discussion of what the Honduran constitution actually says.
In Paraguay, the Congress followed clear procedure to impeach President Fernando Lugo and remove him from office. The Paraguayan constitution is very clear on what the procedure is, the Congress followed it, and the vote was to convict and remove Lugo from office. But the rest of the world, not having fully accepted Paraguay as a country where the rule of law was stable, cried coup…especially other Latin American countries. Fortunately, in this case, Lugo accepted, in formal terms, the result of the impeachment, but if it weren’t for that, Wikipedia clearly would have also designated this a coup. It gives lead billing to the Latin American claims that the impeachment was an “effective coup d’état”, and also buries discussion of what the Paraguay constitution actually says.
And now, we come to our consideration of Romania. If you’d like to have a look at the relevant sections in this imbroglio, here’s the link: http://www.cdep.ro/pls/dic/site.page?den=act2_2&par1=3… and I’ll highlight what you’re looking for. The basic issue is that Romania has a procedure for suspending a presidency on the basis of “having committed grave acts infringing upon constitutional provisions” in Article 95, which is not described as “impeachment”, but also a separate procedure for impeachment a president “for high treason” in Article 96. Here’s the text of those two Articles:
(1) In case of having committed grave acts infringing upon constitutional provisions, the President of Romania may be suspended from office by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, in joint sitting, by a majority vote of Deputies and Senators, and after consultation with the Constitutional Court. The President may explain before Parliament with regard to imputations brought against him.
(2) The proposal of suspension from office may be initiated by at least one third of the number of Deputies and Senators, and the President shall be immediately notified thereof.
(3) If the proposal of suspension from office has been approved, a referendum shall be held within 30 days, in order to remove the President from office.
(1) The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate may decide the impeachment of the President of Romania for high treason, in a joint session, based on the votes of at least two thirds of the number of deputies and senators.
(2) The impeachment proposal may be initiated by a majority of deputies and senators and shall, without further delay, be notified to the President of Romania, so that he can give explanations about the facts he is being held accountable for.
(3) From the impeachment date and up to the dismissal date, the President is under de jure suspension.
(4) The jurisdiction for judging such cases shall belong to the High Court of Cassation and Justice. The President shall be dismissed de jure on the date the court decree impeaching him is final.”
You would think that someone would notice, from this, that no one in Romania is accusing Traian Basescu of “high treason”. Furthermore, you would think that someone would notice that an Article 95 suspension treats Constitutional Court decisions as purely consultative and decides matters on the basis of a referendum, while an Article 96 impeachment treats a High Court of Cassation and Justice decision as binding and involves no referendum, only a vote in Parliament followed by the binding decision of the court.
But because the rest of the world, not having fully accepted Romania as a country where the rule of law is stable, expressed doubts that the Parliament bypassing the Constitutional Court showed proper respect for the role of the judiciary and impugned the democratic motives of those who got the ball rolling on suspending Basescu. Article 95 makes this clear – the court’s ruling was merely consultative in the first place. And get this – in the article I’m linking here, we have a decision of the Constitutional Court of Romania validating that Parliament had a right to proceed to call for a referendum on the suspension of Basescu. So not even the court itself agrees with the Romanian parliament’s critics!
The same kind of emotive arguments are being used about Romania that we heard about Honduras and Paraguay. In this case, the residents of formerly Communist countries are the ones piping up. Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, was right at the head of the line tut-tutting about the Romanian suspension, implying with her comments that Romania, far from being a government based on law, was really only a few steps away from reuniting the Securitate and mortgaging all the public buildings in Bucharest to whomever is left from the Ceauşescu family.
It is possible the Romanian people will, indeed, vote to suspend Basescu from serving any longer as the Romanian president. The main reason this might happen is that Basescu supports austerity packages that are socking it to ordinary Romanians. I suspect that, and not any fear of Communism 2.0, are what’s really behind the Angst that some Europeans are experiencing relative to Basescu’s situation.
If they do vote to suspend (again – say it with me – not to “impeach”), it’s pretty clear that all the legal requirements spelled out in the Constitution of Romania have been followed.
But I’m sure that won’t stop people. I’m waiting for the next phonily proclaimed coup to emerge. It seems to be all the rage these days in diplomatic circles…and after that, Wikipedia…