Romania’s Partidul Social Democrat (PSD; Social Democratic Party), which won Romania’s December 11 parliamentary elections, could make history for Romania. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the PSD, proposed Sevil Shhaideh as Romania’s next prime minister. Shhaideh would not only be the first female prime minister of Romania; she would also be the first Muslim prime minister of the country.
The PSD and its ally, Alianța Liberalilor și Democraților (ALDE; Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) have a majority of seats in the Romanian parliament. In normal circumstances, the leader of the largest party would become the country’s prime minister. But Dragnea is serving a two-year suspension sentence after being convicted of electoral fraud in April, effectively disqualifying him from serving as prime minister.
Enter Shhaideh. A former minister of regional development and public administration, Shhaideh is relatively unknown and seen as more of a manager than a politician. And Dragnea has made it clear that he will be the power being the throne, so to speak. Naturally, this has resulted in criticism from the opposition.
The decision will be made by lawmakers, who must confirm the nomination. But an important first step is President Klaus Iohannis, who is not a member of PSD, giving official support to Shhaideh. Iohannis is Romania’s first president from an ethnic minority. He is Transylvanian Saxon, coming from Romania’s German minority. It would be historic for Romania’s first ethnic minority president to support the confirmation of its first ethnic minority prime minister. Iohannis has generally been a moderate leader and supported the acceptance of diversity in Romania.
Shhaideh comes from Romania’s Tatar population in Romania, which is only about 20,000 strong. Muslims in Romania number less than one percent in a country that is 85% Orthodox Christian. In addition, Shhaideh’s husband is from Syria, although he has made statements on Facebook in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which could be controversial for Shhaideh herself is she becomes prime minister.
The choice of Shhaideh as prime minister would be a strong statement in a Europe that is plagued by the rise of far-right movements and increasing xenophobia against Muslims in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Although there have been female Muslim heads of state in Europe before, these have been in Turkey and Kosovo, majority Muslim nations. Shhaideh, if confirmed as prime minister, would be the first female Muslim leader of any majority Christian nation in Europe. Regardless of whether Dragnea is really holding power, Shhaideh as prime minister would be a visible sign of Romania standing against reactionary forces and xenophobia, a light of acceptance on the edge of Europe.