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Belgian senator: Sex ban call was 'joke'

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
Tens of thousands of Belgians marched through Brussels in late January calling for an end to the political stalemate.
Tens of thousands of Belgians marched through Brussels in late January calling for an end to the political stalemate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Belgian Socialist Party MP suggested a sex ban to end political impasse
  • New Flemish Alliance Party spokesman branded it "extremely stupid"
  • Temmerman said she made the comment as a joke, was surprised by reaction
  • Belgium has been without a government since an election in June 2010

(CNN) -- A Belgian senator who urged her compatriots to abstain from sex to end a political deadlock says she made the comment as a joke and is surprised some have taken it seriously.

Marleen Temmerman, a member of the Flemish-speaking Socialist Party, made the call to action, or rather inaction, in a column published in Belgian daily De Standaard.

Temmerman, who is also a gynecologist, originally wrote: "By going on a sex strike we can protest in our thousands, quietly but effectively. Liberals, Catholics, Muslims or whatever: abstain from sex until the new administration is posing for an official portrait on the steps of the Royal Palace."

A spokesman for Belgium's center-right New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party, which won the election in June and has since failed to agree a coalition with rival parties, said: "As we think this statement is extremely stupid, we do not want to comment upon it."

When pressed, Jeroen Overmeer added: "Ordinary people may joke about the political situation, but members of parliament have a greater responsibility."

Ordinary people may joke about the political situation, but members of parliament have a greater responsibility.
--Jeroen Overmeer, N-VA spokesman

But Temmerman responded: "I see two different groups of people here. You have people who see the humor who can laugh about it. And you have people who don't see the humor of it at all.

"I think it's just ridiculous to get upset about it, to make nasty comments about it," she added.

The spat over Belgium's bedroom antics represents a minor tiff in the prolonged feud between the country's warring political parties.

Belgium has been without a government since June 13, 2010 when a parliamentary election handed power to the N-VA, led by Bart De Wever.

The party took 27 of 150 seats in Belgium's Chamber of Representatives, just one more than the French-speaking Socialist Party.

Since then, the major parties representing the Dutch-speaking Flemish from Flanders in the country's north and French-speakers in Wallonia in the south have failed to agree a coalition.

Flemish parties are pushing for greater independence for Flanders, which includes the capital Brussels, while French speakers raise fears that further division could eventually split the country in two.

"What Belgium is experiencing is a foretaste of the challenges that Europe itself is facing, because you have a prosperous north and a less prosperous south. Over the last decade they've really been separating themselves so they don't have a unifying national identity," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If no government is agreed by late March, Belgium will break Iraq's 289-day record for a country lacking formal leadership.

I think it's just ridiculous to get upset about it, to make nasty comments about it.
--Marleen Temmerman, Belgian MP
RELATED TOPICS
  • Belgium

In the meantime, Prime Minister Yves Leterme heads a caretaker government after resigning just five months into the role in April 2010. It was his second term in office after a nine-month stint in 2008.

Belgian's King Albert II has asked Leterme to present a 2011 budget, while assigning acting finance minister Didier Reynders the no less imposing task of mediating coalition talks.

Conley says the lack of leadership has so far caused "minimal disruption" in the country, but that could end as pressure grows on politicians to address the country's economic woes.

Belgium's public debt is nearing 100% of GDP, and in December ratings agency Standard & Poor's warned the country risked being downgraded if it fails to form a government within six months.

"The markets don't like this uncertainty and if the other periphery states continue to not do well economically, Belgium's borrowing costs will only increase so it's a real challenge," she said.

There is growing frustration inside the country at the lack of political progress. In January, tens of thousands of protesters answered a Facebook invitation to march through Brussels to urge Flemish and Francophone leaders to end the impasse.

One of the organizers of "Shame Online," university student Thomas Royberghs, said he and four friends were tired of politicians' "childish games."

"Parties refusing to talk with other parties," he said by way of explanation, adding "That's not the democracy we voted for."

Royberghs is one of the people who failed to find the humor in Temmerman's suggestion of a sex ban. "I would have found it funny if someone else who wouldn't have been a politician would have proposed it. It's a little misplaced," he said.

Temmerman's no-sex proposal follows a call from actor and comedian Benoît Poelvoorde to "Grow a Beard for Belgium" until the political impasse is resolved.

Fans have shown solidarity with the star of "Nothing to Declare" and "Coco Before Chanel" by uploading photos of their facial hair to his fansite. Many have, including women wearing fake beards.

Temmerman said she expected people to react to her suggestion as they did to Poelvoorde's beard call. "It's a very serious business, but people can also enjoy a joke," she said.

 
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