Well two days ago every newspaper in the world (almost) published a small blurb about how the Romanian Constitutional Court (CCR) invalidated the July 29 referendum and therefore Basescu would be shortly returned to office to finish out the rest of his term (until 2014).
Of course this is Romania so nothing is that simple.
At issue right now is the case of Mona Pivniceru, currently a judge on the ICCJ (highest criminal court). Two weeks ago PM Ponta nominated her to be the new Justice Minister after the internal USL shake-up which had the former Justice Minister, Titus Corlatean, slide over to the post of Foreign Minister.
Unfortunately for the USL, there is an ironclad law that a sitting judge cannot hold any other job (other than that of a university professor) and remain a judge so Pivniceru cannot become the Justice Minister until her membership on the court is revoked. To do that, the CSM (Magisterial Supreme Counsel, sort of the court’s administrative body) must meet in session and vote to revoke her membership. Until this happens, Ponta installed himself as the temporary Justice Minister, which interestingly enough also means that he is a member of the CSM now.
Yesterday in a hilariously ludicrous move, the CSM attempted to meet to vote on (the foregone conclusion) of Pivniceru’s membership revocation but were unable to take a vote because the required quorum of 15 members could not be achieved. Ponta actually hung around the meeting for an hour or so, fuming later to members of the press, but even with his presence (which counts towards the quorum), several members of the CSM were absent and only 14 total members could be assembled.
They’re going to try again today because they only need one more CSM member present to achieve the quorum. Three members of the CSM are out for medical reasons while one is on a vacation in a foreign country. And we all know just how important that annual vacation is to Romanians. Yet another member, George Balan, cannot participate in the meeting because he is suspended while facing a corruption investigation by the DNA (anti-corruption agency).
Two weeks ago the press published transcripts of telephone intercepts wherein George Balan as well as prosecutor Marcel Sampetru were talking about using their influence and connections to the USL to get themselves nominated as the Attorney General and head of the DNA respectively. This while Balan is in town he cannot participate and allow the CSM to make their quorum.
Now what does all of this have to do with Basescu returning to office?
Well as I wrote about three weeks ago, the first step was the CCR invalidating the referendum, which happened two days ago. The next step is that Parliament has to meet and agree to accept the CCR’s ruling on the referendum. But this being the summer holiday season, the USL can continue to delay the Parliament being called into session indefinitely, effectively prolonging Basescu’s suspension.
Just yesterday Valeriu Zgonea, the “Speaker of the House”, who controls the procedural actions in the Parliament, stated that he would use his powers to delay calling the Parliament in session (described in technical detail in Romanian here) until Pivniceru is confirmed as the Minister of Justice, which requires both her removal from the court (done by the CSM as described above) as well as the approval of the President of the country. Fearing that Basescu wouldn’t confirm her, the USL wants to make Antonescu’s last act as interim president to be confirming Pivniceru in the post.
So Basescu’s return to office as President hinges on the USL getting their wish to see Pivniceru as the new Justice Minister, which hinges on the CSM being able to achieve their quorum, which is currently stymied due to some illnesses, a holiday abroad and a corruption investigation.
But why is Pivniceru so important to the USL? Why are they so united in their effort to get her installed as Minister of Justice? The answer is simple – the one lever of power the USL forgot to capture during this year’s coup was control of the judiciary. As I wrote before, (former) Justice Minister Corlatean made a terrible mistake (in terms of consolidating power for the coup) in allowing Codruta Laura Kovesi to self-extend her mandate as the Attorney General. At the time, the USL was thinking that this might anger the EU too much, which was in the process of publishing the next MCV progress report, and so the USL let it slide.
This ended up being a disaster because Kovesi both kept her ally Daniel Morar on as chief of the DNA but also allowed her the power to open up several investigations of voter fraud following the July 29 referendum. Investigators for the prosecutor’s office (who all work under Kovesi’s direction) have been busy beavers in the last three weeks, going around the country and checking out cases of fraud, double voting, etc, not just in small villages but also targeting a few high-profile people, such as the buffoon PSD stalwart mayor of Constanta, Radu Mazare. In the news for the last 10 days, Ponta and company have been doing almost nothing but complain about these investigations.
Meanwhile last week Pivniceru was caught by RTV getting into and then riding as a passenger in the luxury car driven and owned by Andrei Nastase, son of the jailed former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, whom the entire world knows is Ponta’s mentor. Therefore it’s absolutely crystal clear that Pivniceru will “play ball” and do whatever it is that Ponta asks of her. And although Ponta has been downplaying it, it is crystal clear that Pivniceru’s first move (if and) when she is confirmed as the new Justice Minister will be to get rid of Kovesi and Morar and anyone else in the USL’s path and replace them with compliant lackeys.
Let’s review then. Trying to avoid EU/MCV wrath, Corlatean and the USL miss their opportunity to remove Kovesi and Morar from heading up the national prosecutor’s office and anti-corruption agency (DNA) respectively. The MCV report as well as Barroso’s “11 points” letter then come out and the USL realizes it will never curry favor with the EU and so it’s all hands on deck to replace Kovesi and Morar with loyal servants. Judge Balan and prosecutor Sampetru (who used to be Ponta’s boss when Ponta was a prosecutor) are clearly angling to be these loyal servants but are caught red-handed discussing it on the telephone by the DNA and so this plan has to be shut down as they are both suspended from their jobs.
The second plan was to rig the July 29 vote so that the USL would win and then Basescu would be removed permanently from office. When that failed because the quorum of 50% + 1 of the electorate wasn’t met, the next step was to do everything possible to “juke the stats” and remove as many people possible from the list of eligible voters so that the total votes cast would exceed the 50 + 1 threshold. It was pressure to falsify and shrink these lists that caused Interior Minister Rus to resign and the USL shake-up, sliding Corlatean to Foreign Minister and opening up the Justice Minister slot, for which a very faithful lackey in Mona Pivniceru was discovered and nominated for the post.
Two days ago the CCR (predictably) invalidated the July 29 referendum, meaning the clock is about to run out on the USL hegemony on power. Therefore this is one last mad scramble to get Pivniceru installed as Justice Minister so that she can decapitate Kovesi, Morar and anyone else in the prosecutor’s office seen as allied to or sympathetic to Basescu. And that’s all being held up because the CSM cannot achieve it’s quorum, being short one member, and George Balan, a USL loyalist for life, is banned from attending due to corruption investigation by the DNA. Ah, the irony.
Only when the CSM can meet its quorum, meet and formally revoke Pivniceru’s membership in the court, allowing her to be nominated as Justice Minister, which will be confirmed post haste by interim President Crin Antonescu, will the USL allow Parliament to meet and then (presumably) accept the CCR ruling on the invalidity of the July 29 referendum, meaning at long last Basescu can return to the office to which he was legally elected.
And remember, this is just the beginning :)