Category Archives: Difficult cases of cohabitation

Lithuania – President rejects ministerial nominations. When have other presidents done the same?

The formation of the new government in Lithuania has been very difficult. The difficulty has arisen not so much from the negotiations between the parties in the coalition, but from the attitude of the president towards the government. The president’s actions have raised a more general issue.

The legislative election in Lithuania was held at the end of October. A three-party agreement on a new government was reached very quickly and a fourth party was soon added. However, from very early on the composition of the prospective government was contested. President Dalia Grybauskaitė refused to accept the nomination of certain ministers from the Labour Party. More specifically, at first she seemed to imply that she would refuse the nomination of any minister from the party. However, the president has now approved the government and, as 15min.lt reports, it does include Labour Party ministers. However, the government is incomplete. President Grybauskaitė has indeed refused the nomination of two Labour Party ministers and their replacements have yet to be found. In addition, the report states that the initial nominee for the Minister of Culture was rejected and another name was found.

This got me thinking. During periods of cohabitation, how often have presidents refused the nomination of government ministers?

Well, first, it should be stressed that Lithuania is not experiencing a period of cohabitation. President Grybauskaitė is an independent. All the same, she has clearly aligned herself with the Conservatives. So, what we have in Lithuania is a ‘difficult case’ of cohabitation. In previous posts, I have recorded certain other examples.

If we leave the specific Lithuania issue aside and concentrate on the general problem, then three examples of presidents refusing to nominate particular ministers during cohabitation have been identified.

In France in 1986, President Mitterrand rejected the appointment of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers. At that time, he intimated that because he had constitutional competences in these areas and also because the president does have to approve the appointment of ministers nominated by the PM, then he was entitled to oppose the proposed nominations. The new PM, Jacques Chirac, did not make a fuss and they agreed on two new appointments. So, the rejections were known, but it was not a stand-off or a crisis, partly because neither the president nor the PM saw it in their interests to create one.

My colleague, Iain McMenamin, reminded me of a similar case in Poland. He recounts the case in his chapter in the book edited by myself and Sophia Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe. In the early 1990s, President Walesa insisted that he appoint three ministers in his “special special areas of responsibility”. In a slightly later Cabinet, Walesa refused to accept an SLD nomination for Finance Minister. As McMenamin then writes (p. 130): “Eventually, after a prolonged standoff, Walesa got the SLD to produce a new nomination for finance minister, while he accepted coalition-nominated deputy ministers in the presidential ministries.”

Another colleague and great friend to this blog, Cristina Bucur, also told me of a similar situation in Romania. In December 2007 President Băsescu refused to appoint Norica Nicolai as Minister of Justice. There are some details here.

I can’t think of any other examples, but I would guess that there are some. If anyone has any further examples, then do please comment.

The bottom line is that President Grybauskaitė is following the example of certain other presidents. That said, presidential refusals of ministerial nominations under cohabitation do seem to be pretty rare. If so, then it is perhaps more evidence that cohabitation is not necessarily as problematic as it is sometimes portrayed.

Difficult cases of cohabitation – Croatia

In a previous series of posts I recorded the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet.

One potential problem with this definition is that non-party presidents cannot generate any periods of cohabitation. The problem is that some nominally non-partisan presidents may actually be de facto partisans. If this is the case, then the cases of cohabitation may be underestimated.

This series of posts discusses ‘difficult’ cases of cohabitation, meaning the situation where nominally non-partisan presidents are de facto partisans and where there are no other supporters of the president in the government.

For the record, I take party affiliation from worldstatesmen.org. To the best of my knowledge, there is no systematic error in the recording of non-partisanship there.

This case concerns Croatia during the presidency of Stjepan “Stipe” Mesić and the prime ministership of first Ivo Sanader and then Jadranka Kosor from 23 December 2003 to 19 February 2010.

Sanader led an HDZ-dominated government from 23 December 2003 to 12 January 2008. Thereafter, the HDZ was in a coalition with three other parties. (A list of Croatian governments is available here).

Mesić is classed as a non-partisan president. However, he had a partisan past. According to Wikipedia, he was a member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) until 1994 when he joined the Croatian Independent Democrats (HND), which split from the HDZ. In 1997, when the HND failed to win seats in the legislature, he joined the Croatian People’s Party (HNS). He was elected as president in February 2000. In the January 2000 legislative election the HNS won seats in the legislature and it did so again in 2003 and 2007. The HNS was not in government after December 2003.

So, if Mesić was really a member of the HNS and the HNS was not in the cabinet from 23 December 2003 to 19 February 2010, then there was a period of cohabitation in Croatia.

Was Mesić really a partisan? The East European Constitutional Review, Volume 9 Numbers 1/2, states the following: “Although a member of CPP and a candidate of the four-party coalition, Mesić did not really enjoy their full support during the campaign, and the public perceived him as an independent.” However, in an overview of Croatian political parties, Čular (Politička misao, 2004, No. 5) identifies the HNS at the “[p]arty of Croatia’s President Stipe Mesić.” Also, Grbeša in Politička misao, 2004, No. 5, p. 60) notes that Mesić was on the HNS party list at the January 2000 legislative election but did not get elected. So, he was clearly associated with the HNS immediately prior to the January/February 2000 presidential election.

As with any ‘difficult’ case of cohabitation, no definitive conclusion can be drawn. As with the previous post, this is why I believe it is better to define cohabitation systematically and to identify partisanship via a reliable source such as worldstatesmen.org. However, if a research project wanted to test for the effect of cohabitation vs. non-cohabitation on a certain outcome, then it might be worth including the clear-cut cases of cohabitation first and then including the difficult cases subsequently to ensure that there was no systematic selection bias in the results.

Difficult cases of cohabitation – East Timor

In a previous series of posts I recorded the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet.

One potential problem with this definition is that non-party presidents cannot generate any periods of cohabitation. The problem is that some nominally non-partisan presidents may actually be de facto partisans. If this is the case, then the cases of cohabitation may be underestimated.

This new series of posts discusses ‘difficult’ cases of cohabitation, meaning the situation where nominally non-partisan presidents are de facto partisans and where there are no other supporters of the president in the government.

For the record, I take party affiliation from worldstatesmen.org. To the best of my knowledge, there is no systematic error in the recording of non-partisanship there. Moreover, there is nothing in their recording of non-partisanship that allows a rule to be applied to these cases in order to identify ‘difficult’ cases of cohabitation. As a result, the determination of such cases has to be made on a case-by-case basis.

The first case is East Timor (Timor-Leste) and thanks to Ben Reilly for flagging this one.

In August 2001, FRETILIN won 55 of the 88 seats in the first East Timorese parliamentary election. In April 2002, Xanana Gusmão was elected as the first president of East Timor. Gusmão ran as an independent. Hence, he is classed as non-partisan. However, while his presidency was endorsed by a number of small parties, he was not supported by FRETILIN. Indeed, he had left FRETILIN in the 1980s. Moreover, in 2007 he formed a party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (Conselho Nacional de Reconstrução do Timor, CNRT) that competed against FRETILIN. Therefore, there are grounds for thinking of Gusmão as a de facto partisan.

In May 2002 the first constitutional government was formed with Mari Alkatiri of FRETILIN as prime minister. FRETILIN was the only party represented in the government. This government lasted until July 2006. If Gusmão is considered to be a de facto partisan and there was a FRETILIN government, then this might be a case of cohabitation. Indeed, Dennis Shoesmith (in Robert Elgie and Sophia Moestrup eds., Semi-presidentialism Outside Europe, 2007, p. 227) refers to a period of “conflictual cohabitation” during this time.

There is, though, a small fly in the ointment. From 2002-2006, there was at least one nominally non-partisan minister in the government, José Manuel Ramos-Horta. There is reason to believe that Gusmão and Ramos-Horta were allies of a sort. Ramos-Horta had also left FRETILIN, though in 1998. In 2006, he was appointed as prime minister of the second constitutional government by President Gusmão. In May 2007, Ramos-Horta was elected as president against the official FRETILIN candidate, though worldstatesmen.org records him as a non-party president. In August 2007 President Ramos-Horta appointed Gusmão as prime minister. If Ramos-Horta and Gusmão were allies, then the first constitutional government was not a period of cohabitation.

So, what should we conclude? Well, there are some grounds to identify the period from 2002-2006 as a period of de facto cohabitation. The case that Gusmão was a de facto partisan is quite strong. The case that Ramos-Horta was a de facto partisan and from the same party as Gusmão is less strong. If Gusmão was a de facto partisan and Ramos-Horta was non-partisan or a de facto partisan from a different party to Gusmão, then there was a period of de facto cohabitation.

As with any ‘difficult’ case of cohabitation, no definitive conclusion can be drawn. Indeed, this is why I believe it is better to define cohabitation systematically and in a way that allows periods of cohabitation to be identified reliably. However, this is definitely a difficult case.