Romanians vote whether to oust president

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Basescu has been president since 2004. He was impeached by Parliament in 2007 for “serious violations” of the constitution, but survived a national referendum.

He is a center-right politician, though as president he is not allowed to be a member of any party. Unlike presidencies in some European nations, Basescu’s position is not merely ceremonial. He is elected in a popular vote and is in charge of foreign policy and the country’s defense policies. He also names the chiefs of the powerful intelligence services.

Over the past two years, Basescu has seen his approval numbers drop largely because the government introduced austerity measures to meet demands by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a multibillion euro (dollar) loan. Public wages were cut by one-fourth and sales tax raised to 24 percent, one of the highest in the EU.

Ponta heads the left-leaning Social Democratic Party. He became prime minister May 7, the third in four months after the previous two were ousted over austerity measures. Unlike his predecessors who were deferential to Basescu, Ponta has moved instead to sideline Basescu and his allies.

Ponta says that Basescu’s confrontational style of governing and interfering in the justice system and government business are evidence that he is unfit for the job. He also alleges that charges that he plagiarized his 2004 doctoral thesis are orchestrated by Basescu’s camp.

The Foreign Ministry opened polling stations in embassies in the United States, Italy, Spain, France and elsewhere where an estimated 2 million Romanians are eligible to vote.

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