October 12, 2017 / 9:11 PM / 10 months ago

Romania's ruling party endorses government reshuffle plan

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s ruling Social Democrats endorsed on Thursday a government reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Mihai Tudose in a move that could strengthen his position within the party and lend his cabinet credibility within the European Union.

Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea gestures while delivering a speech alongside Prime Minister Mihai Tudose following a six-hour senior party meeting, in Bucharest, Romania, October 12, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

Three ministers will resign, party senior members said, including Deputy Prime Minister Sevil Shhaideh, a close ally of party leader Liviu Dragnea, who holds a tight grip over party ranks but cannot be prime minister because of a previous conviction in a vote rigging case.

Earlier this week, Tudose said that corruption allegations surrounding Shhaideh and European Funds Minister Rovana Plumb had created problems for his government with the European Commission.

Both will resign, as will Transport Minister Razvan Cuc. The party will decide their replacements on Friday.

Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels is keeping its justice system under special monitoring.

“We have a reality and a perception,” Tudose told reporters on Wednesday. “The reality is the presumption of innocence, but the perception in Brussels is completely different.”

On Thursday, Tudose said he hoped Shhaideh would choose to stay in public administration in a different position.

FILE PHOTO - Mihai Tudose talks with media in Bucharest, Romania June 26, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS

Some analysts have said Tudose was using the corruption allegations to gain more control over government decisions.

The government is under pressure from the party to enforce an ambitious governing program that includes tax cuts, public sector wage and pension hikes, as well as a judicial overhaul that could threaten magistrates’ independence that has raised concerns with the European Commission.

“We communicated badly with each other,” Dragnea told reporters after a six-hour senior party meeting. “We cannot make that mistake again, put the party and the government at risk.”

Anti-corruption prosecutors said in September they were investigating Shhaideh for suspected abuse of office in a land transfer case, and have asked parliament to approve an investigation into Plumb linked to the same case.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

The reshuffle comes a little over three months since the cabinet was sworn in after the ruling coalition toppled its first prime minister at end-June.

Tudose has said he was not afraid to resign, which would have automatically toppled the cabinet. Analysts said the Social Democrats accepted the reshuffle rather than risk going with a third prime minister proposal to centrist President Klaus Iohannis, a rival, who must approve premiers.

“If this government were to fall as well, then I would certainly ask myself very seriously whether the PSD still has the capacity to govern,” Iohannis told reporters earlier on Thursday. “For now, we are not in this position.”

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Diane Craft

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