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.

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