BUCHAREST Romania's Social Democrat Party (PSD), the winners of Sunday's election, declined to meet the president on Wednesday for talks on a new government, saying they would wait and propose a prime minister candidate only after a new parliament is sworn in.
President Klaus Iohannis, a liberal, has invited political parties for talks on the new cabinet.
But in the first sign of rift with PSD, he strongly suggested he would not accept its leader Liviu Dragnea as prime minister due to his criminal record.
It was unclear whether the PSD, which won the vote on promises of higher wages and pensions a year after they were ousted by protesters angry at corruption, would still nominate Dragnea or would put forward an alternative candidate.
Dragnea, 54, who rules his party with an iron grip, has remained in his post as party leader despite a conviction earlier this year for rigging a 2012 referendum for which he received a suspended sentence.
He is also on trial in a separate case accused of inciting a county councillor to abuse their power, which he has denied. Any fresh sentence of over three years would automatically send him to jail.
As PSD leader, he would be the obvious choice for prime minister, but his party has been tight-lipped so far on who they will propose.
"We cannot honour the president's invitation for tomorrow ... while the old parliament is still in place," Dragnea told reporters on Tuesday.
"We cannot come up with a proposal for prime minister until the new parliament is validated."
Analysts said the PSD were also waiting to see whether it has a majority of 50 percent plus one seat in parliament after seats are distributed using an algorithm, probably on Friday, which could further strengthen their negotiating position.
The PSD won the parliamentary election with about 46 percent of votes, based on preliminary results.
Under the constitution, the president must hold consultations to form a government with the party with an outright majority, or in the absence of that, with all parties in the legislature.
Along with its long-time ally, ALDE, which secured about 6 percent of the vote, the PSD would have a comfortable majority.
"Iohannis plays a tough card. He wants to say Dragnea is out of the question for being nominated for premier," political commentator Cristian Patrasconiu said.
Under the law, the president would have the right to reject Dragnea as prime minister, as the law says that convicted people cannot be members of the government.
"Integrity criteria in appointing the prime minister remain in place," President Klaus Iohannis told reporters on Tuesday. "I unveiled these criteria before the start of the electoral campaign to avoid unnecessary discussions afterwards."
(Editing by Alison Williams)