Clash Over New Cabinet Sends Romania Spiraling Into Crisis

  • Iohannis calls for election-winner to propose someone else
  • Social Democrats weigh potential suspension of president

Romania tumbled toward a new political crisis after President Klaus Iohannis rejected a prime minister nominee from the Social Democratic Party, which threatened to suspend him after winning a landslide election victory this month.

Iohannis called on the party to pick someone else to lead a government after Sevil Shhaideh, a former development minister with little previous political influence, was picked by Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea last week. Dragnea, who can’t take the post himself because he was previously convicted of rigging a referendum, called the decision unjustified. He said he’ll consider his options, including potentially starting the procedure to suspend Iohannis, and will announce a decision by Dec. 29. The party leaders will meet on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Bucharest.

“It seems the president clearly wants to be suspended,” Dragnea said in a speech in Bucharest on Tuesday. “We’ll weigh our options very carefully, because we don’t want to take emotional decisions. We don’t want to trigger a political crisis for nothing, but if we come to the conclusion that the president must be suspended, I won’t hesitate.”

The standoff in the European Union’s second-poorest country raises the risk of returning to the type of crisis that led to months of bickering between top leaders and culminated in Traian Basescu’s suspension from the presidency in 2012. It may also undermine one of the fastest paces of growth in the EU by delaying investment and the tapping of development funds, an area where Romania has ranked last in the 28-member club.

Iohannis has the constitutional right to reject any premier candidate that he doesn’t consider fit for the job. He didn’t give a reason for his decision. The choice of Shhaideh, a member of the mainly Orthodox country’s tiny Muslim minority, had fueled speculation that Dragnea may try to run the government himself from the sidelines.

Many lawmakers, including Kelemen Hunor, leader of the Ethnic Hungarians party that backs a new government formed by the Social Democrats, said there aren’t grounds to suspend Iohannis and won’t support such a move. He urged Dragnea to make a new nomination for the post of premier.

‘Hard Road’

The leu weakened 0.1 percent to 4.5389 per euro at 11:20 a.m. in Bucharest, its weakest level since June. The currency has lost 0.4 percent against the euro this year. The economy has outperformed its eastern European peers in growth, expanding by 4.4 percent from a year earlier in the third quarter.

The Social Democrats are seeking to replace Romania’s first technocratic cabinet since the fall of communism, which took power after the party’s previous prime minister, Victor Ponta, was swept aside by outrage at state corruption a year ago. Romanians looked past the probes and convictions into several Social Democratic leaders, including Dragnea, and granted them the most votes in Dec. 11 election. They now command a majority in parliament with the junior coalition ALDE party.

“Choosing the hard road and carrying on a battle with Iohannis would be an error for the Social Democrats because they already lost part of their electorate by proposing Shhaideh,” Cristian Pirvulescu, dean of Bucharest’s Political Science University, said by phone. 

‘Supreme Power’

Iohannis has the right to nominate a premier after holding talks with political forces. He can propose a candidate not named by a party who would have to muster a majority in the assembly. Two unsuccessful attempts to form a government will trigger early elections, according to Romania’s constitution. The president can also be suspended if his actions “strongly breach” the articles of the charter in a majority vote in parliament after a notice is requested from the Constitutional Court.

“Parliament has the supreme power in this state, and we have a majority in parliament,” said Dragnea. “That’s the place laws are designed, but that’s also the place where abuses are prevented and stopped.”

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