Political crisis in Romania

Sevil Shhaideh was going to make history by becoming Romania’s first Muslim and first female prime minister. Ms. Shhaideh was nominated to become prime minister by the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD), the party that decisively won legislative elections earlier this month and by its junior coalition partner, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). But Romania’s president, Klaus Johannis, refused Ms. Shhaideh’s nomination, without giving a clear reason why she was an unacceptable choice to lead the country’s government. While some wondered if Islamophobia played a role in her rejection, Hunor Kelemen, leader of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ)–which won 6.19% of the popular vote–suggested that the problem is not with Ms. Shhaideh, but with her husband. Akram Shhaideh is originally from Syria and he is a prominent businessman. He is also a staunch supporter of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

“If someone’s candidacy raises questions of national security or impacts our relationship with our NATO allies, then things start to look different,” said Mr. Kelemen.

Sevil Shhaideh. Photo: MTI / Balázs Mohai.

Sevil Shhaideh. Photo: MTI / Balázs Mohai.

The 52-year old Ms. Shhaideh, born Sevil Cambek in the seaside city of Constanța to Turkish and Tatar parents, served as a cabinet minister (in charge of regional development) and has a long history in Romania’s civil service. Her husband’s outspoken views on Syrian President Assad, as well as his strong criticism of the rebels and of opponents of the Syrian regime, however, are a problem for many in Romania. The fact that Mr. Shhaideh is a former director general in President Assad’s civil sevice, having left his post only six years ago, further exacerbates concerns in Romanian circles. Mr. Shhaideh has referred to Hezbollah as representatives of a “Holy War.” He also declared the following in an online comment: “Only God, Syria and Bassar!”

Liviu Dragnea, leader the PSD, was furious that Klaus Johannis rejected his party’s choice for prime minister. Initially, Mr. Dragnea had himself hoped to lead the government, but Mr. Johannis indicated that he too would be rejected, after a court determined that he was guilty of having attempted to rig an earlier election and was handed down a conditional prison sentence. Mr. Dragnea has the option of nominating someone else to serve as prime minister, although the PSD had previously pledged that Ms. Shhaideh was their final choice. He also suggested that suspending President Johannis is an option too.

Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, co-president of the ALDE party and Mr. Dragnea’s coalition partner, suggested that the president was trying to spark a “political war.” He also accused the conservative-liberal president of not wanting to allow the left to govern.

The incoming left-centre coalition now has only a day or two to mull its options, as Romania enters a period of uncertainty.

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