Romania poised to have first Muslim prime minister

22romania-master768Romanian lawmakers are poised to elect the EU’s first Muslim prime minister in a surprise appointment that comes despite a rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment elsewhere on the continent.

Sevil Shhaideh, a 52-year-old member of the Tatar Muslim minority and a low-key former public administration minister, was proposed by her political mentor Liviu Dragnea, leader of the left-leaning PSD party, after consultations on Wednesday.

If the appointment is confirmed by President Klaus Iohannis and parliament she will also become Romania’s first female prime minister.

Although Mr Iohannis represents Romania at EU leaders’ meetings, Mrs Shhaideh, a former IT systems manager, may also meet fellow EU prime ministers, some of whom have warned of the risks of immigration and Islam in Europe.

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of neighbouring Hungary, has criticised the creation of so-called “parallel societies” of Muslims in Europe.

“The civilisation that stems from Christianity and the civilisation that stems from Islam are not compatible,” Mr Orban said in October. “They cannot mingle but can only exist side by side.”

“Islam has no place in Slovakia,” Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, said in May.

Mrs Shhaideh’s nomination follows prolonged political talks between Mr Iohannis on the one hand and Mr Dragnea and his likely coalition partners, ALDE, on the other.

Mr Dragnea’s PSD won 45 per cent of the vote in the December 11 elections but he is legally barred from becoming prime minister because of a conviction for electoral fraud in April. A 2001 law prohibits convicts from holding ministerial office and Mr Iohannis has made combating corruption the signature of his presidency.

Mr Dragnea told the Financial Times this month that he would have the final word on the government’s political programme, regardless of who occupies the prime minister’s office. The PSD programme is notable for billions of euros in promised tax cuts, investments and public salary increases expected to widen Romania’s fiscal deficit beyond 3 per cent of output.

“The political responsibility stays with me first of all,” he said on Wednesday, shortly after announcing the nomination.

Analysts said Mrs Shhaideh had a low profile among the general public but was known by her colleagues as a capable administrator with close ties to Mr Dragnea, who was an official witness at her wedding to Akram Shhaideh in 2001.

“She has been under the public and media radar and is clearly among Dragnea’s confidence people,” said Radu Magdin of Smartlink, a political consultancy.

“Her level of autonomy in the public eye will depend a lot both on her actions and the shadow Dragnea would like to project on governmental decision-making. The first 100 days will be critical in this sense.”

About 86 per cent of Romania’s population is Orthodox while 4.5 per cent is Roman Catholic. An estimated 0.3 per cent of Romanians are Muslim.


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