Europe’s first female, Muslim Prime Minister in…. Romania?

In an op-ed for the New York Times, the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Kounalakis, blamed Hungary’s decision to abdicate its responsibility to refugees escaping conflict on the “xenophobic platform” on which current Prime Minister Viktor Orban was elected. Poland voted right-wing last year as well when the Law and Justice Party swept to power promising to protect Poland from “disease-ridden migrants”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that in a Pew survey of 10 European countries, people in Southern and Eastern Europe generally had the most negative attitudes towards Muslims. But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon it seems.

The Social Democratic Party scored a resounding electoral victory on December the 11th this year, winning more than 45% of the vote. And together with their allied party – the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats they hold the majority of seats in Parliament. Their nominee to be Prime Minister – Sevil Shhaideh – the first woman in Romanian history to hold to post, but also the first Muslim.

From the country’s Tartar minority, Sevil Shhaideh, 52, isn’t a widely known figure and the nomination has taken many by surprise. The New York Times reports that Paul Ivan, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, and former diplomat said,

“We have seen many names put forward in the last days, but her name was not among them”

Romania is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian (81.9%), with a very small Turkish and Tartar Muslim minority almost less than 4% of the countries total population, however this hasn’t proved to be an electoral challenge for Shhaideh, most likely due to the long, and relatively normalised presence of the Tartar and Turkish community in the country.

So in a turbulent year which has produced a series of quite surprising upsets at the ballot box, from Trump to Brexit, it appears there remains there remains a beacon on the horizon, in the most unexpected of places. Whether she will live up to the hype her election is likely to generate, only time will tell.

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