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BUCHAREST (Romania), May 27 (SeeNews) - Close to 81% of Romanians who voted in an anti-corruption referendum on Sunday rejected the attempts of ruling Social Democrats to weaken the fight against graft, preliminary official results showed.
The majority of Romanians answered with "Yes" to the two questions in the referendum: "Do you agree with banning amnesty and pardon for corruption offenses?" and "Do you agree with banning the adoption of emergency decrees on criminal offences, punishment and judicial organisation and with the extension of the right to challenge decrees directly before the Constitutional Court?".
The referendum, held alongside elections for European parliament, was called by president Klaus Iohannis who has often been at odds with the Social Democrat Party (PSD) over its controversial changes to justice laws and the way they are introduced that have drawn fire both in Romania and the EU.
Voter turnout in the non-binding referendum was 41.2%, exceeding the 30% threshold required for the results to be valid, preliminary data from the country's Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) showed on Monday.
"Dear Romanians, thank you! You have given a clear clear, firm vote that can not be ignored by any politician in Romania," president Klaus Iohannis said in a televised statement on Sunday evening. "The referendum went well! So, dear Romanians, you have clearly and firmly voted for a right policy, for an independent justice, for good governance."
Iohannis also urged PSD, which lost the European Parliament elections according to preliminary results, to step down from government.
"The PSD government must leave. It is a result that can not be interpreted in any other way," Iohannis added.
The president also criticized the poor organisation of elections for the diaspora, which led to long queues being formed at polling stations abroad and to many people remaining unable to vote.
Iohannis unveiled his proposal for a referendum in March, a month after the government adopted a controversial emergency decree amending justice laws. The new legislation sparked criticism from the European Commission, the Romanian judiciary and opposition parties and brought out thousands of Romanians to protest in the streets.
However, at the end of April, Romanian lawmakers approved two draft bills changing the criminal codes in a way that has drawn fire from critics both at home and abroad for threatening the independence of the judiciary and weakening the fight against corruption.
Earlier this month, the European Commission said that it is prepared to take legal action against Romania if the government does not reverse measures undermining judicial independence and does not get back on track with the fight against corruption.
Romania's National Liberal Party (PNL) won some 26.79% of the votes for European Parliament amid high turnout on Sunday, defeating both parties comprising the country's ruling coalition, partial official results indicated on Monday.
PSD won 23.38% of votes, BEC said after counting the ballots cast in 96.93% of the polling stations. PSD's junior coalition partner, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), got only 4.24% of votes, below the 5% EP entry threshold.