Sevil Shhaideh, a 52-year-old Muslim woman from Romania’s Tartar minority, has been tapped to become the next prime minister of Romania after the country’s controlling Social Democratic Party won big in the general election there earlier this month. Pending approval from the president and Parliament, Shhaideh would become the first Muslim and first woman to ever become prime minister of Romania — a country that is 80 percent Orthodox Christian, and less than one percent Muslim.
“There will clearly be part of the electorate that won’t like it,” said Paul Ivan, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels and a former Romanian diplomat. “They also won’t like that the two most powerful political positions in Romania will be taken by those from ethnic and religious minorities.”
President Klaus Iohannis, himself a Protestant of German descent, had suggested that he would not approve the nomination of the Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, who was convicted of electoral fraud in April. The nomination of Shhaideh, a relatively unknown figure who had previously served as minister of regional development, nonetheless came as a shock to many observers.
“It’s a surprising choice. People were expecting somebody controlled by Dragnea, but from the party’s upper levels, not a relative newcomer,” explained Sergiu Miscoiu, a political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. “Picking Shhaideh suggests that Dragnea will control the government without taking direct responsibility.”
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