December 13, 2016 / 11:43 AM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 1-Romania's president appears to rule out election winner as new PM

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By Radu-Sorin Marinas and Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Romania's President will begin consulting parties on forming a new government on Wednesday, but strongly suggested he would not accept the biggest party's leader as prime minister due to his criminal record.

The Social Democrat Party (PSD) won Sunday's parliamentary election with about 46 percent of votes, results from 99 percent of polling stations showed. Its leader, Liviu Dragnea, would be the obvious choice to lead a new government, but was convicted this year of electoral fraud and given a two-year suspended sentence.

"Integrity criteria in appointing the prime minister remain in place," President Klaus Iohannis told reporters on Tuesday, referring to his position that any future prime minister must not have a criminal record.

"I unveiled these criteria before the start of the electoral campaign to avoid unnecessary discussions afterwards," he said.

Along with its long-time ally, ALDE, which secured about 6 percent of the vote, the PSD would have a comfortable majority in parliament. Its promise to put more money in people's pockets proved more appealing to voters than its rivals' pledges to root out corruption.

It was unclear whether the PSD would now nominate Dragnea for prime minister or put forward an alternative candidate.

The new government's progress will be closely watched by the European Union because of the PSD's softer stance against corruption and its propensity for higher public spending, which risks breaching EU budget limits.

Dragnea, 54 remained in his post as party leader despite the conviction earlier this year for rigging a 2012 referendum.

"Iohannis plays a tough card. He wants to say Dragnea is out of the question for being nominated for premier," said political commentator Cristian Patrasconiu.

"He wants to speed up things to form a new cabinet by Christmas ... let's see if he succeeds. Given their ballot performance, the PSD has amassed tremendous negotiating powers." (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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