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News 15 Aug 17

Gay Marriage Discord Splits Romanian Party

Romania’s third largest party in parliament is disarray after its members voted to reject a move to enshrine a conservative definition of marriage in the constitution, causing its founder to quit.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Nicusor Dan at a party meeting. Photo: USR/Facebook.

Romania’s third force, a year-old anti-corruption party called the Save Romania Union, is facing a leadership vacuum after an internal referendum over whether it should take a clear stance and vote against changing the constitution to include the conservative definition of family, as a union between a man and a woman.

Romania’s lower chamber is set to make a decision in the autumn on whether parliament should call for a public plebiscite on modifying the state constitution so that it would fit the conservative family definition - a popular initiative by the Coalition for the Family, a group of 43 religious NGOs that campaign against same-sex marriage.

The bill calling for a plebiscite was submitted to parliament in 2015, after the Coalition managed to gather three million signatures to support it.

Despite the heated public debate over human rights violations, both the ruling Social Democrat Party and the main opposition party, the Liberals, decided to make pacts with the Coalition for the Family and support the bill that passed the Senate by a landslide in May.

Most of the senators who voted against changing the constitution, 22 of them, were from Save Romania Union.

But the issue created divisions in the party, leading to the resignation of its leader and founder Nicusor Dan. 

He left the political faction on June 1, after a heated debate with his fellow party leadership members.

Dan, a senator, did not vote on the issue in parliament and decided to let his fellow party members vote as they see fit.

However, many progressive members insisted that the USR should have taken a unified liberal stance and rejected the bill.

In the party’s internal referendum, a majority of USR members said the party should oppose the constitutional change.

Dan’s supporters hoped he would return to the party, but the politician rejected the possibility on Monday, after the internal referendum results showed most party members did not support his stance.

He said that the internal referendum had only managed to split the party in two.

“It was a referendum with a tight result… USR members are divided, but the USR public is also divided,” he told journalists.

The leader of the progressive faction in the party, former technocrat minister of EU Funds Cristian Ghinea, who has been Dan’s most vocal critic, praised the results of the internal referendum.

“I believe that at the upcoming congress we’ll elect a president capable of putting the interests of the electorate and of the society above his own and… guaranteeing that the USR is a party that wants to modernise Romania,” Ghinea wrote on Facebook on Monday.

The Save Romania Union was established after Romania's local elections in June 2016, when Bucharest mayoral candidate and former civic activist Nicusor Dan and Bucha District 1 mayoral candidate Clothilde Armand turned the Save Bucharest Union, USB, into a national ‘anti-system’ political movement.

In only six months, the new party took Romania’s political scene by storm and became the third political force in both legislative chambers.

But internal skirmishes over Dan’s dominance as well as over his refusal to allow former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos to join the party have caused rifts between members, including between Dan and vice-president Armand, and between Dan and Ghinea.

The party has also been subject to criticism for not having a cohesive, unified ideology, with both conservatives and progressives often bickering over fundamental issues.

The party is expected to hold elections for a new leader in the autumn. 

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