Romania President Rejects First Socialist Muslim Female PM Pick

  • Sevil Shhaideh is sworn in for the position of minister for regional administration and public administration, in Bucharest.
    Sevil Shhaideh is sworn in for the position of minister for regional administration and public administration, in Bucharest. | Photo: Reuters.
Some argue that Sevil Shhaideh, who comes from Romania’s small Muslim community, was rejected over her lack of experience and husband’s Syrian origins.

Romania’s hopes for having its first woman and Muslim prime minister were quashed by the country’s president after he rejected Social Democratic candidate Sevil Shhaideh, whose party won the recent parliamentary elections.

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The Social Democrat Party, known as PSD, won the Dec. 11 general election and, with its junior coalition partner and long-time ally the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats or ALDE, has an outright majority in parliament with 250 lawmakers in the 465-seat, two-house assembly.

The party’s head Liviu Dragnea then proposed Shhaideh, a leftist woman from the country’s tiny Muslim minority, as prime minister last Wednesday. She is seen as a close associate of Dragnea who was ruled out for the job after being convicted in a 2012 referendum-rigging case.

“I have properly analyzed the arguments for and against and I have decided not to accept this proposal,” President Klaus Iohannis said in a televised statement Tuesday. He did not give any reason for rejecting her nomination.

“I have come up with a solution that I hope will be accepted so that a government is in place quickly to ensure we have a budget plan approved by Jan. 15,” Dragnea told reporters.

Shhaideh has served under a previous leftist-led government as regional development minister but critics say that she did not have solid experience in politics to rule the country. Others also say that her close relationship with Dragnea would have meant he would have a significant influence on her government.

“Dragnea has nominated a loyal person, whose … flaws stem from a lack of notoriety and authority within the PSD, but that hasn’t got anything to do with anything,” Sergiu Miscoiu, political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj said. “It will be a government controlled by Dragnea.”

This is the first time in the country’s history a president had turned down a nomination. Dragnea accused Iohannis of wanting “to start a political crisis” and said his party might consider trying to impeach him over his unprecedented decision.

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Some political commentators and local journalists speculated that Shhaideh’s Syria-born husband could be one of the president’s reasons for rejecting her for the premier’s post. Her husband is seen as a supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The news comes at a time when Europe is suffering a surge in Islamophobia and xenophobia amid an ongoing refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of people arrive at Europe’s shores from conflict-ridden countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya.

The PSD, which promised higher wages and pensions during the election campaign, had hoped Dragnea, who keeps tight control of his party, would stand for prime minister but Iohannis made clear he would refuse any candidate with a criminal record.

Dragnea and Shhaideh, who come from Romania’s tiny Muslim community, are close. He was a witness at her 2011 wedding to a former agriculture ministry consultant.

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