Conner Rousseau resigns as president of Vooruit party

Conner Rousseau resigns as president of Vooruit party
Credit: Belga

Conner Rousseau resigned as head of Vooruit on Friday, announcing the decision after a special meeting of the board of the Flemish social democratic party on racist remarks he made against the Roma community.

“The fuss about me is distracting too much attention from the party’s essence and it’s no longer about what Vooruit stands for,” said Rousseau. “My person must not stand in the way of the challenges (faced by our party).”

An interim chairman has reportedly been appointed, with household names such as Melissa Depraetere slated as likely successors, due to be introduced to the press on Saturday.

Resignation sparked by comments against Roma community while drunk

Rousseau was recently criticised  for racially offensive comments he made about the Roma community whilst inebriated at a bar in Sint-Niklaas in early September. The news had leaked before, but this week Het Nieuwsblad published verbatim excerpts from the police report.

Rousseau announced that he was stepping down as chairman after a party meeting held to discuss the matter. Although the board allegedly urged him to stay on, he felt the controversy surrounding him had become a distraction from fundamental party goals such as better wages, social progress, and combatting far-right extremism.

“The focus on extraneous issues and complications involving me is growing,” noted Rousseau. He said he was stepping down to enable a return to calm, so that the focus can once again be on core issues.

The outgoing Vooruit president also made an appeal to people who might be put off by the controversy surrounding his remarks. “Come back. I’m making space. Trust Vooruit, the only party that can prevent our country from complete stagnation,” he urged.

'A grave and hideous mistake'

Rousseau acknowledged that his controversial remarks were a “grave and hideous mistake” for which he felt “ashamed.” He added: “I wish to ask, once more, for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

He also apologised to anyone he had “let down.” Indicating that he understood it might be “difficult” for him to be given a second chance and that many people were “disappointed,” he said he hoped for some forgiveness and a second chance at the “right time,” whether in or out of politics.

Finally, he expressed gratitude to his supporters, colleagues, party members and - significantly - the media “beecause I was given many opportunities to impart my message.”

“Even if you are critical of me, you should remain so, but you must also remain critical of yourselves,” he added.

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