World Bulletin/News Desk
Romania's President Traian Basescu will probably be impeached in a referendum later this month, an opinion poll showed on Sunday, setting the stage for months of political battles that could further unnerve markets.
The ruling Social Liberal Union (USL) of leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta suspended Basescu on Friday saying he had overstepped his powers. An impeachment referendum will take place on July 29.
An opinion survey conducted by pollster IMAS for local radio station Europa FM showed 64.3 percent of Romanians would vote to impeach Basescu, who is widely unpopular for backing austerity measures, including salary cuts and a rise in sales tax.
But Romania's Constitutional Court is expected to rule on Monday on a government attempt to change the referendum rules, which could have a crucial effect on Basescu's fate.
The government wants to change how many votes are needed to impeach Basescu, from a majority of the whole electorate to a majority of those who actually vote.
Ponta's cabinet has taken series of steps that the European Union, United States and other Western nations say have threatened the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in the EU's second-poorest country.
The prime minister also faces charges of plagiarism, which have drawn calls for him to step down.
The Council of Europe has asked constitutional experts to examine Basescu's suspension.
The political uncertainty in the country - Ponta is Romania's third prime minister this year and international criticism have sent the leu currency to a record low and pushed borrowing costs higher.
"As things stand, Basescu will most likely be impeached, although international criticism may push more Romanians to vote for him," said political commentator Mircea Marian.
"Widespread criticism abroad is the biggest thorn for the government right now."
IMF in focus
The government had a long list of reasons for suspending Basescu, including what it said was his attempt to pressure judges and break the constitution. Basescu said the charges against him were political and an attempt by Ponta to take control of the judiciary.
Impeaching Basescu would mean Romania would have to elect a new president in the autumn as well as holding a parliamentary election, which will stall policies and raise expenditure as it tries to keep an International Monetary Fund-led deal on track.
The 5 billion euro ($6.15 billion) IMF agreement is important to maintain investor confidence, particularly as the euro zone debt crisis rages.
The president is in charge of the country's foreign policy and nominates the prime minister.
Although the role is in part-ceremonial, Basescu was able to influence the previous government's austerity policies because of his close links to the centre-right Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL), which led that government.
If the Constitutional Court, which has accused the USL of trying to dismantle it, rules against the government's referendum rule change, Basescu would almost certainly survive. But the government has also passed an emergency decree backing the law and it is uncertain if that will also be challenged.
If the government and court end up in conflict over the decree, it will almost certainly spark another wave of criticism from the court and the European Union. The government denies it is endangering the rule of law and says it is sticking to the deal with the IMF, which will review Romania later this month.
About 27 percent of Romanians would vote in favour of Basescu, while roughly 8 percent were undecided, the opinion poll showed. Romanians working abroad, who have backed Basescu in previous elections, were not included in the survey.
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The polling stations opened 6.00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) at some 45,000 polling stations across the country.