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Romania: Constitutional Court Holds Election Law Unconstitutional

(Feb. 1, 2012) Romania’s Constitutional Court, in a ruling delivered on January 25, 2012, held as unconstitutional a new law that permits local and parliamentary elections to be held at the same time. (Maureen Cosgrove, Romania Constitutional Court Rejects Controversial Election Law, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Jan. 26, 2012); Comunicat de Presa [Press Release], The Constitutional Court of Romania (Jan. 25, 2012).)

On December 15, 2011, the Romanian Parliament had adopted, without debate, the Law on the Organization and Conduct of Elections for Local Officials and for the Chamber of Deputies and Senate Elections in 2012 and on the Amendment of the Law on Local Government No. 215/2001. The Law had previously been circulated by the Ministry of Administration and Interior for public discussion. The Law states that in 2012, elections for local officials and elections for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate were to be held on the same date (art. 2(2)) and that an election that takes place in a single day may only be held on Sundays (art. 2(3)). (Lege privind organizarea si desfasurarea alegerilor din 2012 – Proiect [Law on the Organization and Conduct of Elections in 2012 – Proposal], JURIDICE.RO (Dec. 6, 2011) [with hyperlink to text of the proposed legislation, in Romanian]; Romanian Court Rejects Contested Election Law, KYIV POST (Jan. 25, 2012).) As is indicated in its title, the Law amends Law No. 35 of 2008, on parliamentary elections (196 MONITORUL OFICIAL (Mar. 13, 2008), as amended, and Law No. 215 of 2001, on local elections (204 MONITORUL OFICIAL (Apr. 23, 2001) & 123 MONITORUL OFICIAL (Feb. 20, 2007) [law re-issued], as amended.)

The nine-justice panel of the Constitutional Court ruled against the new Law on holding elections on the same day; it had been challenged by the opposition Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. The decision came in the aftermath of nearly two weeks of public protests against the government, for corruption, passage of certain laws without parliamentary debate, and the country’s low standard of living. The Court did not provide details on its ruling. In the past, local and parliamentary elections have been held in the same year, but several months apart. (Andra Timu, Romanian Court Rules Against Same Day General and Local Election, BLOOMBERG (Jan. 25, 2012); KYIV POST, supra.) According to the opposition, the Law would complicate the election process, leading to more confusion and cheating, and thereby facilitating fraud; the government argued that having one ballot for the two elections was a cost-cutting measure. (KYIV POST, supra.)

Romanian elections have been controversial in the last few years. The Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Traian Basescu (who first took office in 2004) the winner in the December 2009 disputed runoff election, unanimously rejecting a complaint by his opponent to declare the runoff results invalid because of allegations of corruption. In 2007, Basescu had been reinstated in office following a failed impeachment attempt; the Court had certified the results of a referendum in which nearly three-quarters of the electorate rejected the impeachment proposal. (Cosgrove, supra.)