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.