Impeachment, Romanian Style
As I wrap up the manuscript for my book on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson — the projected publication date is next May or June — I also think about the impeachment process followed by that exemplar of constitutional regularity, Romania! After my cycling trip through Eastern Europe this summer, I ran into the former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Jim Rosapepe, who enlightened me on that country’s impeachment process. It’s pretty interesting.
Traian Basescu, former Romanian President who survived 2007 impeachment vote
In Romania, the Parliament votes to impeach the president,which immediately suspends his official powers, but there is no trial afterward. Instead, the contest is submitted to the voters in a referendum within 30 days of the Parliamentary vote (!). A simple majority vote in the referendum will remove the President from office.
In early 2007, President Traian Basescu was impeached by the Romanian Parliament as a result of a breakdown of several party alliances and cross-charges of corruption and links to old Communist institutions that is bewildering to the non-Romanian. Although the parliamentary vote was an impressive 322-108 against the incumbent president, Basescu startled many observers by winning a thumping victory in the referendum, prevailing by a 3-1 margin.
A few contrasts between the American and Romanian impeachment processes jump out at me:
— The Romanians get it over with. Within 30 days of the impeachment vote in Parliament, the referendum is over. Nice.
— The Romanians make it political. There is nor trial, no need for a “crime” by the president (or “high crime and misdemeanor”), and thus no pretense of a judicial proceeding with evidence, cross-examination, and so on. The question is simple: keep the president or throw him/her out? This seems to me the principal difference between the systems.
— The Romanians let the voters decide. Imagine. They probably don’t even have an electoral college to choose the president in the first place.
— The Romanians apparently make it easier to get rid of the president by requiring only a simple majority in the referendum to remove him. But I’m not sure it really is easier. A long-time joke in American politics is that most incumbent candidates would lose if they ran against “someone else,” but they usually win when confronted by their actual opponent. The gift of “going negative” in campaigns. Then again, the opposition may be less motivated to turn out to vote if they have no actual candidate in the race. An interesting question.
Just guessing here, David, but say the Romanian president loses the referendum, perhaps by a small margin. I’m assuming then that there’s an election to select the new president. Also suppose that the impeached president runs, goes negative against his opponent(s), and wins. Could be a formula for a pretty bad mess. Somehow a parliamentary system, prime minister, vote of no confidence, go to the country, coalition if necessary, etc., seems better. Though heaven knows it works pretty badly in places like Israel.
BTW, welcome back from your adventure…sounds like it went pretty well.