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Romania's Parliament Approves Left-leaning Government

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, center left, poses for the media next to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis after the swearing in ceremony for his cabinet, in Bucharest, Romania, Jan. 4, 2017.

Romania's Parliament on Wednesday approved a left-leaning government led by Sorin Grindeanu, who vowed to stop thousands of Romanians emigrating, build highways and encourage the consumption of local produce to create what he called “a normal Romania.”

Before winning confirmation on a 295-133 vote, Grindeanu said he wanted a country “where people have the freedoms and rights that the vast majority of European citizens have.”

President Klaus Iohannis swore in the new government of Social Democrats shortly after the vote, urging it to guarantee an independent justice system and the rule of law, and strengthen its position within the European Union and NATO.

Iohannis, who beat a Social Democrat in the 2014 presidential election, also suggested the new government's electoral promises of reducing taxes and hiking the minimum salary and pensions would mean exceeding a projected budget deficit of 3 percent.

The Cabinet includes an economist who had been poised to become the country's first female and Muslim prime minister.

But Iohannis declined to nominate Sevil Shhaideh, a political novice and member of Romania's small Muslim minority, after it emerged that her Syrian-born husband, who had worked at the Syrian agriculture ministry, had expressed support for President Bashar al-Assad on social media.

She was nominated and sworn in as the new deputy premier and regional development minister.

There are concerns that the coalition government - which has 26 ministers, four more ministerial posts than the previous technocrat-led government - may seek to slow down Romania's anti-corruption fight.

Grindeanu also hinted at tempering the anti-graft fight, saying it should be “firm, but equally firm should be the defense of fundamental human rights.”

An opposition leader, Raluca Turcan, said the Social Democrats were incapable of “governing in a European way” so long as they were led by Liviu Dragnea, an old-style politician who was disqualified to head the new government because of a conviction for election fraud.

Even before the vote, ombudsman Victor Ciorbea said he would petition the Constitutional Court to argue that the law banning people with convictions from serving as ministers is not constitutional.

Grindeanu said the government planned to raise the minimum wage, to hike pensions and student grants and make free medicine widely available.

Grindeanu also vowed to stop the “exodus” of thousands of Romanians, by creating better-paid jobs in Romania and reducing pork and tomato imports, which Romania produces locally.