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Bosnia and Herzegovina - Presidential and General Elections

Presidential and general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a round up one week before the vote

Presidential and general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a round up one week before the vote

25/09/2006 - D-7

On 1st October 2.7 million Bosnian voters will elect the three members of the collegial Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (a Croat, a Serb and a Muslim) and the 42 representatives in the Chamber of Representatives, the lower Chamber of Central Parliament. The inhabitants of the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina[1] will also elect the 98 members of the Chamber of Representatives and those from the 10 cantonal assemblies; the inhabitants of the Serb Republic will elect the 83 members of their National Assembly as well as their President of the Republic and their Vice-Presidents.

2,736,886 voters will have to choose from 36 political parties, 8 coalitions and 12 independent candidates. The number of voters has risen sharply: more than 15% in comparison with the local elections on 2nd October 2004. This is due to a change in the electoral law: registration on the electoral rolls is now automatic; the simple presentation of an identity document is enough to vote on 1st October.

Just one week before the election the mood of the electoral campaign is particularly venomous. Ultra-nationalist comments, all types of accusations, verbal sensationalism, unacceptable suggestions, rash promises do not help mobilising voters who are already not very willing to fulfil their civic duty. According to the polls 48.5% of Bosnians are about to abstain and most of them believe that three quarters (75%) of the promises made during the last presidential and parliamentary elections in 2002 have not been kept.

The leader of the Independent Social Democrat Party (SNSD) and Prime Minister of the Serb Republic, Milorad Dodik, has requested the organisation of a referendum on the independence of the Serb Republic. He wants Bosnia-Herzegovina to be transformed into a federation so that the Serb Republic finally enjoys the same status as the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "We want to be on an equal footing with Bosnia-Herzegovina and if this cannot be achieved, if the Serb Republic does not enjoy equality it will be independent," he declared on 5th September. He justified his attitude by the attitude adopted by the Muslims who are calling for the abolition of the Serb entity. "This is our message: either the talk about the abolition of the Serb Republic stops or we shall organise a referendum," repeats Milorad Dodik.

The leader of the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SB-H), former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic, has asked for the abolition of the Serb Republic and its absorption into the Bosnian State. For his part, the present President in office of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sulejman Tihic (Democratic Action Party, SDA) maintains that his party wants to lay the foundations of a new Bosnia-Herzegovina, since the Dayton Agreements (21st November 1995) have now become outmoded. "Bosnia-Herzegovina is as Serb as it is Muslim or Croat," maintained the President of the Republic who has called for the elimination of the symbols of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, arguing that neither of them represented the Serb people. "This is impossible (the organisation of a referendum on the independence of the Serb Republic). I ask Milorad Dodik to stop deceiving the Serb people. Bosnia-Herzegovina is not the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the two entities are not federal entities," answered Sulejman Tihic to Milorad Dodik. For his part, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, High Representative of the international community and European Union envoy, has threatened to use the powers conferred on him to dismiss the Prime Minister of the Serb Republic if he continues to brandish the spectre of a referendum. "Let him dismiss me. I assume everything I have said about the referendum," declared Milorad Dodik adding: "We shall not give up our position and if dialogue is cut with the EU then I ask this question: who needs the European Union?" Finally on 16th September last, the Prime Minister caused a real stir by declaring that the Serbs from the Serb Republic should be able to vote in the elections in neighbouring Serbia.

On 15th September the European Union said that it was concerned about the direction the electoral campaign was taking in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is sorry that no reform has been approved in 2006 and has repeated its desire to see, in particular, the reform of the police completed as quickly as possible. It recalled how attached it was to the country's integrity repeating the importance of the elections on 1st October next when the Bosnians will choose the authorities who will lead them on the road to Europe. "Not one single project that was established on the agenda three months ago has been adopted," stressed Christian Schwarz-Schilling who called on candidates to think of the Bosnians and to assume their responsibilities with regard to the country's future and its European integration. The adoption of reforms and the improvement of the central institutions are the conditions for Bosnia-Herzegovina to draw closer to the European Union. Christian Schwarz-Schilling is accusing the parties of campaigning on ethnic issues rather than on the country's long term interests. "The more violent the speeches are in the campaign the more difficult it will be as a result to find partners to run the institutions," he declared, admitting however that he was far less an interventionist than his predecessor Paddy Ashdown. He maintains that he wants to force the Bosnians to assume their responsibilities. "They must make their own mistakes. We're not in the kindergarten now when someone does things for you if you don't do them yourself," he stressed.

The Council that applied the Dayton Agreements decided on 22nd and 23rd June in Sarajevo to abolish the position of the High Representative of the international community by 3rd June 2007. This decision still has to be confirmed in February and approved by the UN Security Council. The Council followed the proposals made by Christian Schwarz-Schilling who wanted to transform the role of High Representative, who notably has the power to punish the Bosnian leaders and to replace them. The international community will however maintain its forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, notably via NATO and the EU. The decision was accepted by the Serb Republic which regards the withdrawal of the international community favourably; it was however perceived with concern by the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Christian Schwarz-Schilling has promised that he will not leave the country in an anarchic situation.

Douglas McElhaney, US Ambassador in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is also concerned about the things that have been said during the electoral campaign. "There will not be a referendum," he declared, adding "this is the official policy of the American government." Finally the Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recently sent a group led by Lubomir Kopaj, to monitor the presidential and general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There has been conflict between Mustafa Ceric, the leader of the country's Muslim community and the present President in office of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sulejman Tihic. The chairman of the Democratic Action Party, Irfan Ajanovic, sent two letters to Mustafa Ceric revealing the tension between the religious leader and the party that is in power at present. When Sulejman Tihic took over from Alija Izetbegovic, father of the country's independence in 2003 as head of the Democratic Action Party, Mustafa Ceric believed that he would have greater powers within the party but the opposite happened. Sulejman Tihic did not waste time in talking of the separation between religion and the State and explained to the religious leader that his power was extending beyond his mission as leader of the Muslim community. Mustafa Ceric was then quick to criticise the leader of the Democratic Action Party saying that he had drifted away from the former party leader's ideals. "I am on the path indicated by Alija and no other party is following that path," he said. "What are you doing on Alija's path? Who told you to follow it?" wrote Irfan Ajanovic. "Stay on God's path. This is how you will follow Alija's path."

A poll undertaken by Promediteam reveals, as always in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that the issue of national identity is the most important stake in the next elections. Haris Silajdzic is believed to be the best placed to defend national interests. Economic issues come second on the list in these elections. The president of the Democratic Progress Party (PDP), Mladen Ivankovic-Lijanovic, seems to be the best candidate in terms of providing solutions with regard to this. A surprising fact has come to light: voters believe that the politicians who are most able to defend ethnic interests are not the best placed to solve economic problems.

According to a poll undertaken in September by the Institute of Balkan Studies based in Slovenia the nationalists are losing ground to the Social Democrats.

Within the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, three parties are running neck and neck: the Social Democrat Party, credited with 19.9% of the vote, the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (19.8%) and the Democratic Action Party (19.3%).

With regard to the election of the Collegial Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina Haris Silajdzic is ahead of Sulejman Tihic with 44.4% of the voting intentions on the part of the Muslim community; the latter is credited with 35.1% of the vote, he has also admitted that the electoral campaign had been more difficult for him than the previous ones.

The Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina has focussed its electoral campaign on the dissolution of the two entities that make up the Republic whilst the Democratic Action Party (SDP) led by Zlatko Lagumdzija is promising to lead the country on its road to the EU. Supporters of the Social Democrat Party are disappointed that the party has not put a candidate forward for the Collegial Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most support Haris Silajdzic or Mohamed Cengic.

For the first time since the end of the war between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians from 1992 and 1995, the Croat community is divided before the electorate. Dragan Covic, winner of the last presidential election of the Croat college (dismissed by Paddy Ashdown), who represents the Croat Democratic Community of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ-BH) of which he is the leader, is facing Ivo Miro Jovic standing for the HDZ 1990 led by Bozo Ljubic. This party signed an agreement with the upcoming elections in mind with the Croat Farmers' Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina, HSS, led by Marko Tadic, the Croat Christian Democrat Union, HKDU, led by Marin Topic and the Croat Democratic Union, HDU.

It was after a disagreement with Dragan Covic that Bozo Ljubic left the Croat Democratic Community of Bosnia Herzegovina (HDZ-BH). The party leader in fact spoke in favour of constitutional amendments during the vote in Parliament at the end of April. According to Bozo Ljubic, these amendments would be damaging to the Croat population. Doctor Jurisic, a Croat Law Party candidate, an extreme rightwing movement, might very well take advantage of this division. According to the polls only 30% of Croats are going to vote on October 1st next.

Finally Nebojsa Radmanovic (SNSD) is the favourite in the presidential election in the Serb community.

Within the Serb Republic where the influence of the Muslim and Croat parties is decreasing with every year that passes the present President of the Republic Dragan Cavic (Serb Democratic Party, SDS), is credited with 19.7% of the vote behind his adversary, Milan Jelic of the Independent Social Democrat Party (36.1%). For the general elections the party led by Prime Minister Milorad Dodik is in the lead with 35.1% of the voting intentions, versus 15.3% for the Serb Democratic Party led by Dragan Cavic. The latter made an appeal to voters: "I call on the population of the Serb Republic to vote on 1st October because these elections are very important for the future of our relations within the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The vote on October 1st will be a vote for the Serb Republic and its institutions," he declared.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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