Romania gets new PM, ending political turmoil

Bucharest (AFP) - Romania's president on Friday named social-democrat Sorin Grindeanu as the nation's new prime minister, bringing to a close weeks of uncertainty since the left won a parliamentary vote on December 11.

The centre-right president Klaus Iohannis signed the official decree naming Grindeanu, a 43-year-old former communications minister, as the new premier.

Grindeanu now faces a confidence vote in parliament on his programme and cabinet nominees. The vote must take place within the next 10 days.

He later told reporters he would seek parliamentary approval on January 4 and hold a government meeting on the evening of that same day.

The nomination sought to end a political crisis sparked when Iohannis rejected a previous candidate who would have been the country's first female and first Muslim prime minister.

The president offered no reasons for his rejection of Sevil Shhaideh, initially put forward by the Social Democrats (PSD), but there was speculation that it was due to her Syrian husband's background.

Sources close to the president had indicated on Thursday that Grindeanu was considered a "better solution".

"Iohannis is hoping for a smoother, less conflictual coexistence than he had with former prime minister Victor Ponta," who was forced to resign in November 2015 after street protests erupted over a deadly nightclub fire.

Grindeanu is seen in Romania as a "disciplined soldier" within the PSD ranks and said himself in a recent interview that he had joined the party very young as an outlet for his leftist convictions.

After his nomination Wednesday by PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, Grindeanu said he would obey the party chief.

"Mr Dragnea is the president of the PSD, it's very simple," he said.

Dragnea had withdrawn his own bid to become prime minister because of a conviction that bars him from office.

- Second nomination -

Dragnea however made no secret of the fact he was looking for a candidate close to him.

"I wanted a man I could trust, a man who wouldn't use his government position as a springboard," he said.

He also said he would not abandon his own ambitions of power, branding as "unjust" the laws barring him from office over charges of electoral fraud.

Before Grindeanu, the PSD had proposed the previously little-known Shhaideh after its thumping poll victory on December 11 when it won 45 percent of the vote, enough to form a majority coalition with its partners ALDE.

Shhaideh, 52, who has only five months ministerial experience, is from Romania's small and long-established Turkish minority, but her Muslim faith is not thought to have been the problem.

Instead it was likely the fact that her husband, 54, had worked in the Syrian agriculture ministry for 20 years before emigrating to Romania in 2011 and marrying Shhaideh the same year, according to the PSD.

Website HotNews cited unnamed sources as saying that the security services had "strongly cautioned" against Shhaideh's nomination because of the closeness of her husband and his two brothers to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

This might have made giving Shhaideh the necessary security clearances to be the NATO member's prime minister problematic.

On Tuesday after Shhaideh's rejection, Dragnea said the PSD was considering its options including moving to suspend Iohannis or going to the constitutional court.

However, any attempt by the PSD to remove the head of state would have been problematic because Iohannis was entitled to request a second proposal for premier.

The PSD eventually agreed to make a new proposal, stating that it would be their "final" effort to avoid "political war".

The PSD's election triumph came barely a year since anger over the nightclub fire that killed 64 people forced it from office.

The inferno was blamed on corruption -- something Brussels has long complained about since Romania joined the EU in 2007.

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