Romania president, ruling party chief in talks over new PM

AP News
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Posted: Jun 26, 2017 11:03 AM
Romania president, ruling party chief in talks over new PM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian President Klaus Iohannis met with Liviu Dragnea, the powerful leader of Romania's biggest political party, before formally nominating a new prime minister after the previous government was dismissed by the ruling party.

The Social Democratic Party announced its choice for prime minister, lawmaker Mihai Tudose, the 50-year-old economy minister in the previous government. Tudose, an ally of Dragnea, was also economy minister from 2014 to 2015.

Dragnea and political ally Calin Popescu Tariceanu, who heads the junior Alliance of Democrats and Liberals, later met Iohannis and presented their choice.

If Tudose is formally nominated by the president, Parliament could approve him this week, Dragnea said.

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WHAT'S GOING ON?

As party leader, Dragnea normally would be prime minister, but in 2016 he was convicted of vote-rigging which disqualifies him from holding the post.

He is also on trial for instigating abuse in office, something he denies. The Social Democrats withdrew support for Premier Sorin Grindeanu after just six months in office saying he'd underperformed.

He refused to resign and the party and its allies removed Grindeanu in a no-confidence vote last week.

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WHAT'S AT STAKE?

As things stand, the prime minister has less power than Dragnea, and the candidate would do well to remember that. Dragnea says he wants an "honest, correct person" who is not an "adventurer." Commentators say he wants a loyalist, who will relax anti-corruption laws, and not use the post to create a power base.

Iohannis says he will nominate a person of "integrity," meaning someone who isn't the subject of a corruption probe. Parliament needs to approve his nomination.

Despite losing popularity, the Social Democrats still have a loyal base in rural areas, and opposition parties are weak.

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WHAT DO THEY WANT?

Neither Iohannis nor Dragnea want a protracted political crisis which, at this stage, would not benefit their political careers.

Dragnea is losing popularity, despite his party overwhelmingly winning December's parliamentary elections. Massive street protests in February over a move to decriminalize abuse in his office dented Dragnea's ratings and the party took a further hit after it dismissed its own government.

Iohannis recently traveled to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, was in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and wants to stay above political bickering, with an eye on re-election in 2019.