Romania set to avert political crisis with new government

Mystery over president’s rejection of Muslim woman Sevil Shhaideh for prime minister

Sevil Shhaideh would have been the first woman and first Muslim to run Romania, but her nomination as prime minister has been rejected by the president, Klaus Iohannis. Photograph: Alex Micsik/EPA

Sevil Shhaideh would have been the first woman and first Muslim to run Romania, but her nomination as prime minister has been rejected by the president, Klaus Iohannis. Photograph: Alex Micsik/EPA

 

Romania’s parliament is expected to approve a new nominee for prime minister on Wednesday, after the country’s head of state rejected the surprise first candidate named by the election-winning Social Democrats.

President Klaus Iohannis refused to endorse the nomination of Sevil Shhaideh, who would have been the first woman and first Muslim to run Romania, raising fears of damaging political deadlock between him and the Social Democrats (PSD).

Mr Iohannis did not say publicly why he disapproved of Ms Shhaideh, but Romanian media have cited possible concerns over her husband, a Syrian businessmen who has reportedly posted social media messages in support of the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who is a pariah in the west.

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea said Mr Iohannis’ decision could spark a political crisis in Romania, and he raised the possibility of seeking to suspend the president, which would trigger a referendum on his impeachment.

Fraud conviction

That prospect was averted when Mr Iohannis accepted the PSD’s second nomination for premier, Sorin Grindeanu, a mathematician and former communications minister and ex-deputy mayor of the city of Timisoara.

“I wanted a man I could trust, a man who wouldn’t use his government position as a springboard,” said Mr Dragnea, who is barred from becoming premier by a conviction for committing fraud during a referendum in 2012.

Like Ms Shhaideh, Mr Grindeanu (43) is also seen as very close and very loyal to Mr Dragnea, stoking speculation that the party leader could try to run Romania from the shadows.

“Mr Dragnea is the president of the PSD, it’s very simple,” Mr Grindeanu said when asked whether he would follow his party leader’s orders.

Having won 45 per cent of votes in last month’s election, the PSD joined forces with former ally the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats to secure a solid majority in parliament.

Mr Dragnea said it should ensure the chamber’s approval of Mr Grindeanu and his cabinet in a vote of confidence expected on Wednesday. The coalition’s leadership met on Tuesday to finalise its ministerial line-up.

“We’ve reached the final stretch so that our governing programme can be enforced the way we designed it,” the party leader said.

Major street protests

The PSD won the election barely a year after it resigned from government amid major street protests triggered by a fire at a nightclub in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, which killed 64 people.

Many Romanians saw the blaze at the Colectiv club as a consequence of the corruption that blights the country, with officials suspected of taking bribes to give permits and overlook breaches of safety rules. Poor medical care is also alleged to have contributed to the high death toll.

The PSD successfully appealed to voters with pledges to boost wages and benefits, which critics fear could damage the country’s fragile economy.

Ms Shhaideh is expected to serve as deputy prime minister. According to the Balkan Insight news service, during a tearful appearance on Romanian television she said her family had received threats because of their Muslim faith.