BUCHAREST Romania's president rejected the Social Democrat Party's nominee for prime minister on Tuesday, infuriating the leftist PSD which won a general election two weeks ago.
The party's pick to lead the new government was Sevil Shhaideh, a close associate of PSD power broker Liviu Dragnea who was ruled out of the job due to a criminal conviction over a 2012 referendum rigging case.
Dragnea's PSD won the Dec. 11 election by a wide margin and, with coalition partner and long-time ally ALDE, has 250 members in the 465-seat, two-house parliament, meaning it would easily get parliamentary approval for its government.
Shhaideh, a 52-year-old woman from Romania's 65,000-strong Muslim community, is close to Dragnea who was a witness at her 2011 wedding to a Syrian-born former agriculture ministry consultant.
"I have carefully weighed the pro and con arguments and I have decided not to appoint Mrs Sevil Shhaideh," President Klaus Iohannis told reporters, without elaborating on his reasoning.
"As a result, I am asking the PSD and ALDE to make a new proposal."
Dragnea said he had watched the president's decision with "stupefaction".
"Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow at the latest ... we will need to make a decision," Dragnea told a news conference. "I want to weigh up very carefully what is good and what is bad for Romania."
"If, after analysis, we reach the conclusion that it is best to suspend the president, I will not hesitate. But we don't want to jump head-first and plunge the country into crisis."
Parliament can initiate a presidential impeachment procedure, but it is complex, lengthy and would require a consequent consultative ruling by the Constitutional Court and a national referendum.
Speculating on the president's motive for rejecting Shhaideh, political commentator Mircea Marian said: "Either there were national security reasons to reject her, as she is married to a Syrian citizen which may put security at risk, or there were purely political reasons."
"The PSD has lost a lot by making this proposal, which came as a surprise to their hard core electorate."
Rise Project, a member of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project of investigative journalists, said this month that Shhaideh's husband had posted messages on his Facebook account in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The PSD, which promised higher wages and pensions during the election campaign, had hoped Dragnea would stand for prime minister but Iohannis made clear he would refuse any candidate with a criminal record.
Dragnea has kept his post as party chief despite being convicted this year for abusing his influence in a referendum to impeach former president Traian Basescu, for which he received a suspended two-year jail sentence. He is also on trial in a separate case.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)