Political uncertainty in Romania after president rejects PM nomination

Political uncertainty in Romania after president rejects PM nomination
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest December 27, 2016

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis has turned down the Social Democratic Party (PSD) nomination for the prime minister post, Sevil Shhaideh. The president said in a broadcast statement on December 26 that he expects another nomination from the ruling coalition.

Shhaideh, who was nominated on December 21, was seen as a compromise candidate since Iohannis had previously said he would not nominate PSD leader Liviu Dragnea. His refusal to accept Shhaideh will delay the formation of a new government and also sets up a confrontation between Iohannis and the PSD-led majority. 

Iohannis said on December 26 he had considered the pros and cons of Shhaideh’s candidacy, but did not explain the grounds for his decision.

The ruling coalition comprising the PSD, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) holds a 60% majority in parliament after the December 11 elections.

PSD president Liviu Dragnea nominated Shhaideh for the post since he cannot himself serve as prime minister as he has been sentenced for corruption-related activity. After nominating Shhaideh, Dragnea did not hide his plans to act as de-facto prime minister, confirming that he would assume full responsibility for the government and closely monitor its activity.

Shhaideh is a close ally of Dragnea, who previously replaced him 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. If nominated, she would have become Romania’s first female Muslim prime minister. 

Dragnea stressed on December 21 that the PSD would not submit another nomination and he added that if the president rejected Shhaideh’s nomination “we will meet each other under other circumstances”. 

The statement was interpreted as a hint about a possible impeachment procedure in parliament against the president. Such a procedure can be initiated only if president’s deeds breach the constitution, which is not the case yet. Nonetheless, the PSD might ask the Constitutional Court to confirm whether the president must designate the nominee proposed by the ruling majority, or if he has the right to reject it. The law is unclear on this detail. 

If the court backs the PSD's view and the president sticks with his decision to reject Shhaideh, impeachment procedures could be initiated, and eventually, a public referendum would take place. However, since the outcome of such a referendum (meaning a vote for Iohannis vs. Shhaideh) is really uncertain, the PSD will probably avoid such a scenario.

The main criticism expressed publicly against Shhaideh is related to her husband Akram Shhaideh, a Syrian citizen and a supporter of Bashar al-Assad regime, having served in the past in the Syrian administration. Former President Traian Basescu particularly stressed this. 

While this was not an issue when she served as a minister, it could be problematic as prime minister since Shhaideh would be part of the Supreme Council of National Defence (CSAT), Basescu explained.

The alliance of PSD and ALDE holds 53.7% of the seats in the new parliament. Furthermore, it established a four-year protocol for cooperation with the UDMR, which further strengthens the power of the new ruling coalition. The UDMR received 6.5% of the seats in parliament.