Romania President rejects Muslim Sevil Shhaideh as PM

Sevil Shhaideh in Bucharest (21 May 2015) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The PSD nominated Sevil Shhaideh after its resounding election win on 11 December

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has rejected the prime ministerial candidate nominated by the left-of-centre Social Democrats (PSD).

Sevil Shhaideh would have been Romania's first female and Muslim prime minister. President Iohannis has given no reasons for his decision.

Ms Shhaideh has been criticised for lacking political experience, only serving once as a regional minister.

Analysts say her Syrian husband's background may also have been a factor.

In response, PSD leader Liviu Dragnea said his party might consider trying to impeach Mr Iohannis.

He said there was no constitutional reason for refusing Ms Shhaideh, and accused Mr Iohannis of wanting "to start a political crisis".

The PSD won the parliamentary election earlier this month and hopes to form a coalition.

What next? By Petru Clej, Romania specialist

No Romanian president has ever turned down a nomination before, and Mr Dragnea has lost little time fighting back.

Speaking to reporters alongside his ally Calin Popescu Tariceanu - the Senate speaker and leader of the small ALDE coalition party - Mr Dragnea mentioned the possibility of impeaching the president.

He and Mr Tariceanu have said they will not be rushed into a full confrontation with President Iohannis, saying they will assess whether he acted against the constitution by rejecting their candidate.

The two parties, PSD and ALDE, hold a majority in parliament and could suspend the president from office and submit his removal to a referendum within one month.

It would not be the first time. PSD and another party suspended former President Traian Basescu in 2007 and 2012, only for the impeachment to be rejected twice in referendums. The second attempt failed because of a low turnout.

Mr Dragnea withdrew his own bid to become prime minister because of his two-year suspended jail sentence for fraud in a previous election.

Ms Shhaideh is considered a close friend of Mr Dragnea, leading to speculation that she may become his "puppet" if she became prime minister.

"I have properly analysed the arguments for and against and I have decided not to accept this proposal," Mr Iohannis said in a televised statement.

"I call on the PSD coalition to make another proposal," he said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption There have been allegations that Ms Shhaideh is too subservient to PSD leader Liviu Dragnea

Political commentators have speculated that Ms Shhaideh Syrian-born husband may have been considered a security risk. A group of Romanian investigative journalists, the Rise Project, recently said that he had posted messages on social media in support of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The PSD nominated Ms Shhaideh after its resounding election win on 11 December when its pledges to raise pensions and implement tax cuts secured it about 45% of the vote.

The election victory comes after public outrage over a nightclub fire in November 2015 which killed 64 people and triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Many Romanians saw the fire, at Colectiv club in Bucharest, as the tipping point.

The tragedy prompted a nationwide attempt to clean the country up.

Sevil Shhaideh

  • A member of Romania's tiny Turkish minority, she is seen as a political newcomer
  • Most of her working life has been spent as an economist and a civil servant
  • Widely regarded to be politically inexperienced, she has served only a six-month stint as development minister
  • Seen as being personally close to Mr Dragnea, who is reported to have been a witness at her wedding

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