Unprecedented situation in Parliament: Lower Chamber Speaker wanted doors blocked ahead of vote

The Lower Chamber’s plenum decided on Wednesday to send back to the Judiciary Commission, for a period of three weeks, the draft law on promotion of human dignity and tolerance for group differences, also known as the “defamation law” and then redubbed the “tolerance law,” a law initiated by PSD President Liviu Dragnea. The proposal came from Florin Paslaru, leader of PSD Lower Chamber MPs. The decision was adopted with 154 votes in favour and 6 against. 56 MPs abstained.

At first, the Lower Chamber should have resumed the vote on the draft law initiated and backed by Dragnea. The decision was taken in the absence of Liberal and Popular Movement MPs. Apart from the latter, UDMR MPs also did not agree with the resumption of the vote either, arguing that it would be “a dangerous precedent.”

Lower Chamber Speaker Valeriu Zgonea (photo) asked the session’s quaestors to block the doors of the Lower Chamber’s plenum hall, in order to proceed with the voting on the suspension of the electronic voting procedure.

“I am asking the two Lower Chamber quaestors to block the two doors and we will do like the British Parliament does, if there’s no other way we like,” Zgonea said, being quoted by Mediafax. The doors however were not closed, Agerpres informs.

A nominal vote then took place – each MP was called up and said whether he votes for or against – on not using the electronic vote procedure for a week’s time.

“From now on, the secretaries are responsible with counting those present in the hall. The leaders of parliamentary groups and the members of the Statute Commission have to come up by next Wednesday with a clear plan of measures, addenda, amendments to the Statute, clear, transparent verifications of this electronic procedure, so that there would no longer be any problem and those who are present and introduce their electronic cards, those people should vote,” Zgonea said.

At first, the PSD President said he would re-file the law, in a similar form, however he has changed his mind in the meantime. The PSD Group asked for a re-vote on Dragnea’s law and on 8 other draft laws.

Last week, the draft law failed to meet the number of votes needed for the adoption of an organic law, the 50 per cent plus 1 threshold, calculated based on the number of MPs present in the hall, not being reached.

PSD Executive President Zgonea stated on Wednesday that the report authored following the administrative investigation does not prove Dragnea right. The latter had complained of “criminal” intervention on the electronic voting system.

The situation surrounding the “defamation law” was not unique however. On Wednesday, voting restarted on eight other laws debated last week.

PNL Co-President Alina Gorghiu announced that the Liberals will notify the Constitutional Court about the procedure adopted and implemented on Wednesday.

The Senate had adopted the defamation law last autumn, after which it entered the Lower Chamber, generating significant debates in the mass media and civil society’s vehement opposition, out of concern that the law will allow censorship.

In the last two weeks, the defamation law took on a spectacular course. After it went through the commissions, a very heated public debate started, many voices disputing the advisability and need of a so-called internet police. Before today’s decision, the law stipulated harsh sanctions consisting of fines running into tens of thousands of RON for the defamation of social groups. And the groups were defined in terms of political membership and wealth too.

The changes brought to the law come after Liviu Dragnea’s law was harshly criticized in recent days, including by the US Embassy in Bucharest.

The law initiated by Liviu Dragnea had went through the Senate and had been approved by the Lower Chamber’s commissions. The law is now waiting for the final vote in the plenum. In the form adopted by Senators, the draft law was stipulating that social defamation could result in fines of RON 1,000-30,000 if it targets a physical person and RON 2,000-60,000 if it targets a social group. Now none of this exists anymore, according to Liviu Dragnea.

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