Romanian President Traian Basescu addresses reporters at his electoral campaign headquarters in Bucharest on July 29, 2012.

Story highlights

Romanians are deciding whether to remove President Basescu from office

He declares victory as exit polls indicate low turnout

The prime minister says he should consider stepping down anyway

The embattled Romanian president had urged supporters to skip Sunday's vote

CNN  — 

Romanian President Traian Basescu will officially return to office after the country’s top court ruled Tuesday that a referendum to remove him was invalid.

Officials said after the referendum on July 29 that just over 46% of registered voters had cast ballots.

Those who did cast ballots voted nearly 9 to 1 to impeach the president, the Central Election Bureau said.

Basescu had urged his supporters to boycott the polls, saying, “The best help today is to stay home.”

After the polls closed, he said voters had rejected a “coup” by Ponta and the interim president, Crin Antonescu.

Exit polls from Romanian television stations indicated turnout was about 44% late Sunday, and that the overwhelming majority of those voting favored Basescu’s impeachment. That led Ponta to say Basescu “should strongly consider whether he is still legitimate or not in the office.”

That led Ponta to say Basescu “should strongly consider whether he is still legitimate or not in the office.”

“I believe that any politician that says he can ignore the voice of almost 9 million people is totally unrealistic,” Ponta said.

Ponta’s Social Liberal Union (USL) disputed the turnout figures, saying it had estimated 9.2 million people had voted – slightly over 50% – which would mean Basescu would be ousted. Final results are expected Monday.

Final results are expected later on Monday.

Basescu had been suspended since parliament voted to impeach him in early July, saying he overstepped his authority by ordering wage and benefit cuts for public workers.

Basescu said the austerity measures were needed to meet the terms of a $24 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund for the cash-strapped country, but the move soured many Romanians on his leadership.

Romanian president suspended

Opponents also accuse Basescu of cronyism. He took office eight years ago and has already survived one effort to remove him, in 2007.

The latest crisis in the southeastern European nation – slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Oregon – has sent its currency, the leu, plummeting to record lows.

Romanian president faces impeachment

Two pro-Basescu governments have collapsed, paving the way for Ponta’s center-left USL to take office. Ponta succeeded in getting lawmakers to not only suspend Basescu, but to remove both speakers of parliament and replace them with allies.

In voting Sunday, Ponta expressed anger that the prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Viktor Orban, had urged Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority not to vote.

“I want Romanians to decide their own fate,” Ponta said.

Ponta is dealing with his own controversy: He has been accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. He has dismissed the accusation as a political attack from Basescu.

Journalist Cosmin Stan contributed to this report.