A controversial referendum to change the Romanian constitution has fallen well short of the 30 per cent turnout figure required for its result to be valid. While the official figure will not be known until October 9, official estimates from the country’s electoral commission put turnout at just over 20 per cent.
The referendum, which sought to change the country’s constitutional definition of a married couple – currently defined as ‘two spouses’ – to ‘a man and woman’, would have made the legalisation of same-sex marriage all but impossible without a further constitutional change. Despite the proposed change benefiting from the support of Romania’s ruling party – the nominally social-democratic PSD – as well as part of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and the influential Romanian Orthodox Church, a large number of civil society groups, together with the opposition Save Romania Union (USR) successfully called for a boycott.
Immediately after polling had closed, Dan Barna, the leader of the USR, called for the government to resign.
“This government has wasted 4o million euros of public money on a fantasy,” he said. “This referendum did nothing to address the real challenges being faced by ordinary Romanians each and every day.”
The Romanian Family Coalition, the extremist group which originally put forward the proposed change, accused Romania’s political parties of not doing enough to ensure a high turnout.
“The political parties have failed in their duty. This boycott was aimed directly and primarily against Christians in Romania,” said the coalition’s president, Mihai Gheorghiu.
His comments, however, do not tally with the Romanian government’s actions over the past month. Indeed, the government did all it could to ensure the referendum would be validated. Firstly, less than three weeks before the referendum took place, the government changed electoral rules by passing an emergency ordinance that enabled voting to take place over two days. It then suspended the electronic monitoring of voters, which prevents people voting more than once and is used as standard in Romanian legislative elections.
While there were some isolated cases of fraud, and a suspiciously large number of votes cast on so-called supplementary lists, the USR, which mobilised 12,000 volunteers to closely monitor the vote at polling stations around the country, appears to have prevented more serious cases of vote rigging.