Surprise Romanian PM Pick Fuels Talk Dragnea Will Be Real Boss

Updated on
  • Party head Dragnea nominates Shhaideh in talks with president
  • Opposition Liberals say he has ‘obsession to stay in control’

The leader of Romania’s Social Democrats unexpectedly proposed an ally with little clout for prime minister, stoking talk he’ll try to run the government himself from the sidelines.

Liviu Dragnea, whose party triumphed in this month’s general election, nominated former Regional Development Minister Sevil Shhaideh in a move that would give the nation its first female premier. He can’t take the job himself because of a criminal conviction. The pick suggests Dragnea may want to buy time to overturn the restriction on his own candidacy, according to Andrei Taranu, deputy dean of Bucharest’s Political Science University.

“It’s a very surprising proposal,” he said by phone. “But we were expecting a candidate that would be very obedient to the party and its leader.”

The European Union’s second-poorest country is replacing its first technocratic cabinet since the fall of communism, which took power after the previous Social Democrat premier was swept aside by outrage at state corruption a year ago. The party made a comeback in the Dec. 11 vote, as promises to further reduce taxes and boost public-sector salaries persuaded voters to look past graft probes into several of its lawmakers

They include Dragnea, who’s fighting an abuse-of-office probe following the two-year suspended prison sentence he received in April for trying to rig a referendum. He’ll become parliament speaker, Romania’s third-most-powerful position, Digi24 TV reported Wednesday, citing an announcement from the assembly.

The leu weakened after Dragnea spoke and was down 0.1 percent against the euro as of 3:52 p.m. in Bucharest, trimming this year’s gain to 0.1 percent.

Hard Worker

Dragnea made the announcement after talks with President Klaus Iohannis, who must approve Shhaideh or pick someone else. Iohannis says he’ll block nominees for premier who have criminal convictions, in line with existing legislation to that effect. He’s also ruled out people who’re under investigation by law enforcement. He’ll reveal his decision on Shhaideh’s nomination on Dec. 22.

Shhaideh, 52, belongs to the mainly Orthodox Christian nation’s Muslim minority. Dragnea, whose party commands a majority in the 465-seat parliament with ally ALDE, praised her as a hard worker with experience in attracting EU funds.

While Dragnea said political responsibility for the future government would rest with him, “first and foremost,” he also sought to quell suggestions that he’d control it.

Open, Transparent

“I don’t intend to rule from behind the scenes,” he told reporters Wednesday in Bucharest. “All the measures I approve will be carried out in an open and transparent manner.”

That didn’t cut it with Romania’s newest party, the USR, which campaigned on an anti-corruption platform that almost won it the Bucharest mayoral election earlier this year. Its leader, Nicusor Dan, said Shhaideh had been “planted” by Dragnea.

The Social Democrats’ proposal shows “Dragnea’s obsession to stay in control,” Raluca Turcan, head of the opposition Liberal Party, said in televised comments. “We won’t vote for such a government and we’ll be their opposition in parliament.”

Another small party representing Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority said it would support Shhaideh.

There could be friction if Iohannis rebuffs Shhaideh’s candidacy, with political feuds between leaders not uncommon in the country of 20 million people. One culminated in Traian Basescu suspension as president in 2012.

“If Iohannis rejects our proposal, I’m not going to make a second one and we’ll see each other in some other place,” Dragnea said.

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