Romania’s Social Democratic Party (PSD) nominated Muslim politician Sevil Shhaideh for the prime minister post on December 21. Her selection came as a surprise, not only because the candidate is a Muslim and a woman, but also because she was also not in the shortlist of potential nominees.
In choosing to nominate Shhaideh rather than the party’s leader Liviu Dragnea, the PSD has backed out of a direct confrontation with President Klaus Iohannis. The president had previously said he would refuse to nominate Dragnea, who has a criminal conviction.
However, Shhaideh is a close ally of Dragnea, and her nomination is broadly seen as announcing tight, albeit indirect, control by Dragnea over the government. In fact, she previously replaced Dragnea in the cabinet of Romania’s then Prime Minister Victor Ponta in May 2015, when Dragnea had to step down after he was sentenced for voter manipulation.
Dragnea officially submitted the nomination to Iohannis on December 21. If nominated as prime minister-designate by the president, Shhaideh must form her cabinet within ten days.
Iohannis is expected to accept Shhaideh’s nomination and the ruling coalition formed by the PSD and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats has the necessary number of MPs to endorse her in parliament following the December 11 general election.
Shhaideh is set to become one of Europe’s first female Muslim prime ministers, following Tansu Çiller of Turkey in the 1990s and Atifete Jahjaga, whose term as president of Kosovo recently ended. Publicly, the nomination of a woman for the PM seat is broadly welcome, while her religion might not prompt much debate in a tolerant country like Romania.
On the other hand, being seen as a temporary replacement for Dragnea is likely to diminish her credibility and authority. Most likely she will hand over to Dragnea once the bill that prevents his appointment as prime minister is either invalidated by the Constitutional Court or amended in parliament. Such attempts would, however, prompt major protests from the opposition.
“I do not want to claim [for myself] this position for the time being,” Dragnea said when announcing Shhaideh’s appointment. “But at the same time, I do not want to avoid the responsibility [of winning the elections],” he added. Dragnea also explained that since his party won the elections he would have been entitled to become prime minister.
Dragnea stressed that the activity of the government will be closely monitored by the party and by the parliament – supporting expectations that he will be deeply involved in the activity of the executive.
Higher-profile PSD members such as former deputy prime minister Vasile Dancu or central bank deputy governor Florin Georgescu were circulated as potential prime ministerial candidates by local media one day earlier. Shhaideh’s unexpected nomination could have been a last-minute decision, after other politicians refused the invitation.
Having served at local level mostly in local administration, Shhaideh has constantly cooperated closely with Dragnea. Her cooperation with Nicusor Constantinescu, the head of local administration in Constanta county (now indicted for corruption), might be criticised by the opposition. But except for this and her hiding Dragnea’s indirect control of government, there is not much that can be reproached about her nomination.