October 10, 2017 / 1:40 PM / a year ago

Romanian ruling Social Democrats to vote on government reshuffle

(This version of the October 10 story corrects date of vote to Oct. 12, not Oct. 5)

FILE PICTURE: Romania's Prime Minister Mihai Tudose attends the swearing-in ceremony at the Cotroceni Palace after winning a vote of confidence in parliament, Bucharest, Romania June 29, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said on Tuesday the ruling Social Democrats would decide on Oct. 12 whether to endorse his plans to reshuffle his government, amid a dispute pitting him against party leader Liviu Dragnea.

Tudose said late on Monday that corruption allegations surrounding three ministers had created problems for his government, including with the European Commission, and said he was considering asking them to resign.

It is the first time that a senior Social Democrat has acknowledged while in office that cabinet corruption allegations pose problems for Romania, which joined the European Union a decade ago and saw mass anti-graft protests earlier this year.

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

Deputy Prime Minister Sevil Shhaideh, a close ally of party leader Dragnea, could find herself on Tudose’s reshuffle list. She is under investigation for suspected abuse of office in a land transfer case.

Dragnea retains a tight grip over both the party and government. He is barred from becoming prime minister despite the party’s sweeping election win last December because of a prior conviction in a vote-rigging case.

Earlier this year, Dragnea pushed out Sorin Grindeanu as prime minister in a no-confidence vote.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Dragnea and other top party officials on Tuesday, Tudose suggested the party exerted too much influence over the government.

“... the level of involvement of certain party structures in government affairs ... must be clarified,” Tudose said.

Both he and Dragnea said the party’s senior executive committee would address the issue as well as the proposed reshuffle on Thursday. They declined to name any ministers who might be affected.

At the start of the year, government attempts to weaken a crackdown on corruption triggered Romania’s largest street protests in decades, and a pending judicial overhaul announced in August has worried the European Commission.

“It was inevitable that between Tudose and Dragnea there would be conflict,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University.

“Dragnea wants control over the party but a prime minister must have the power to make decisions. Tudose also seems to be more moderate when it comes to party plans to change judicial legislation.”

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones

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