13/09/2010 - Analysis
On 5th May last the Central Electoral Commission announced that 3,129,599 Bosnian voters (the Bosnians in Bosnia-Herzegovina are divided into three main communities: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) would be called to ballot on 3rd October next to elect the three members of the Collegial Presidency and the 42 MPs who sit in the Chamber of Representatives, the Lower Chamber of the Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The inhabitants of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (a unit which represents 51% of its territory) will renew the 98 members of the Chamber of Representatives of their Parliament and of their local assemblies;
the inhabitants of the Serb Republic (49% of the country's territory) will elect the 83 members of the National Assembly as well as their Presidents and Vice-Presidents. More than 8000 candidates from 47 political parties and 14 independent candidates are standing in all of the elections.
Of the 400,000 Bosnians living abroad only 30,000 are registered to vote. For the first time they will be able to fulfil their civic duty in all embassies and consulates. Not many Bosnians living abroad turn out to vote. The authorities are expecting around 8% of them to vote. "Because of domestic political problems Bosnia-Herzegovina has still not adopted the law on the diaspora which should define a clear national strategy with regard to this. This is why we have no budget for this kind of thing. Everything is done on a voluntary basis and the associative initiative of our citizens," indicates Foreign Minister, Sven Alkalaj.
The official campaign started on 3rd September. It is due to focus on the following question: does Bosnia-Herzegovina need greater centralisation or is it preferable that the two entities which make it up (Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina) maintain their autonomy? The Serbs of Bosnia support the latter solution whilst the Bosniaks are in favour of greater centralisation. An OSCE mission led by Roberto Batelli will be observing the election.
A Complex Political System
The Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a confederation comprising two entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb Republic of Bosnia (Republika Srpska). The country has a Collegial Presidency elected for four years and comprises 3 members – a Croat, a Serb and a Bosniak – each elected by universal suffrage by his community. The Presidency is a rotating one over an 8 month period between the three communities. Haris Silajdzic (Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, SBiH) has been in office since 6th March 2010. Nikola Spiric (Independent Social Democratic Alliance, SNSD) is Prime Minister. During the last presidential election on 1st October 2006 Nebojsa Radmanovic (Independent Social Democratic Alliance, SNSD) and Zeljko Komsic (Social Democratic Alliance, SDP) were elected to the presidential college.
The Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzgovina (Skupstina) is bicameral and comprises the Chamber of Representatives (Predstavnicki Dom) and the Chamber of Peoples (Dom Naroda) which includes 15 members (5 Bosniaks, 5 Serbs and 5 Croats) – they are elected for four years by the lower Chambers of the country's two constituent entities: the Chamber of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the National Assembly of the Serb Republic of Bosnia.
The Chamber of Representatives has 42 MPs elected by direct universal suffrage for four years: 28 are appointed by the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and 14 by the Serb Republic.
The Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (51% of the territory, 67% of the population whose capital is Sarajevo) has a President, Borjana Kristo (Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina, HDZ-BH) and two Vice-Presidents (a Bosniak and Serb): Mirsad Kebo (National Democratic Action Party, SDA) and Spomenka Micic (Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, SBiH). These personalities are elected by the Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina that comprises two chambers: the Chamber of Representatives, with 98 representatives elected by proportional representation and the Chamber of Peoples comprising 60 members (30 Bosniaks and 30 Croats) appointed by the 10 local assemblies of the Federation. Mustafa Mujezinovic is the present Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Serb Republic of Bosnia (49% of the territory, 33% of the population and whose capital is Banja Luka) is led by a President elected by direct universal suffrage. Rajko Kuzmanovic (SNSD) is in office at present. He succeeded Milan Jelic (SNSD) who died on 30th December 2007. Milorad Dodik (SNSD) is his Prime Minister. The Parliament of the Serb Republic of Bosnia is monocameral, with the National Assembly comprising 83 members elected by proportional election for a four year period.
The main political parties of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina are:
- the National Democratic Action Party (SDA), which has the majority in the Chamber of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, founded in 1990 by Alija Izetbegovic, the first President of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1990-1996 and then 1996-2000), led by Sulejman Tihic;
- the Independent Social Democratic Alliance (SNSD), which holds the majority within the Serb community was created in 1996 is led by outgoing Prime Minister of the Serb Republic, Milorad Dodik;
- the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ-BH) founded in 1990 is led by Draga Covic and holds the majority within the Croatian community ;
- the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SBiH) founded in 1996 by outgoing President of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina Haris Silajdzic wants to protect the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina ;
- the Social Democratic Party (SDP), created in 1999 is led by Zlatko Lagumdzija ;
- the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), is led by Mladen Bosic ;
- the Democratic Progress Party (PDP) founded in 1999 is led by Mladen Ivanic;
- the Croatian Democratic Union 1990 (HDZ 1990).
Bosnia-Herzegovina is under the supervision of an international High Representative – a post occupied since 26th March 2009 by Valentin Inzko – appointed by the UN. The High Representative wields major power: he can cancel any decision taken by the country's authorities or conversely he can enforce laws on the Bosnian institutions. He can even deprive any individual of power whose acts are contrary to democratic principles. Valentin Inzko is also the EU's special representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The main institutions have little power with each entity in addition to its own political institutions having an army, a police force, a legal system and its own educational system etc. The international community and notably the EU support the enhancement of the main institutions so that reform which is vital for the country's European aspirations can be implemented. The complexity of the political-administrative system – the superposition of four different layers of power (town councils, districts, entities and Federation) and high decentralisation – coupled with difficulties in coordinating with the international institutions and the national elites explains the problems experienced by Bosnia-Herzegovina to a great extent. The positions occupied by the international organisations have however been greatly reduced over the last few years. The UN offices in Sarajevo have been closed and NATO's stabilisation force withdrew in December 2004 and was replaced by a European force. In the field the number of men deployed has dropped from 7,000 men to less than 2,200.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a very functional state; it maintains a massive civil service that is sapped by corruption. The country failed to change its Constitution in the way that had been hoped for by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Indeed the Bosnian political system is based on belonging to one of three communities. This is why the census is an operation that always leads to a great number of divisions between the communities. The Serb MPs would like for example to see ethnic and religious criteria included in the census which the Croats and Bosniaks are against. "It is about who would protect the interests of one population in the face of another best," laments Srdjan Dizdarevic, former chair of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. Bosnia Herzegovina has 40% Bosniaks, 37.1% Serbs and 14.3% Croats (figures from the CIA World Factbook 2000). 40% of the population is Muslim, 31% Orthodox and 15% Catholic.
In December last the ECHR asked Sarajevo to modify its fundamental law which, in its opinion, discriminates against the minorities in the country reserving executive and legislative posts (Parliament) to Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats only. The Bosniaks and Croats cannot be elected to the political institutions of the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Serbs cannot be elected into those of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Serbs regularly question the country's territorial integrity and hope for a greater decentralisation of power; the Bosniaks request the enhancement of the Central State just like the Croats who support the idea of a Central State but in an ambivalent manner.
"Will the Serb Republic separate from Bosnia-Herzegovina? I am convinced that it will happen one day but it must be done in a peaceful, civilised, non-violent manner," declared its Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. In February last the Parliament of the Serb Republic approved a law thereby facilitating the organisation of a referendum on the subject of the entities' sovereignty. The Serbs want the office of the international High Representative to be closed and for international intervention to end so that Bosnian politicians can be master of their own country. The Bosniaks seem to be less in a hurry. The international community has set several conditions for the closure of the office. When it is closed the High Representative will maintain some of his powers. However Bosnian politicians will have more autonomy.
To take the various players in Bosnia-Herzegovina further along the road to an agreement the European Union and the USA organised a summit with the country's executives on 8th and 9th October last in Butmir. The meeting did not lead to real progress and the communities which populate the country remained divided.
Many believe that Bosnia-Herzegovina will only be able to find stability via its integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. The country signed a European Partnership, an element of the stabilisation and association process with the EU. Likewise on 23rd April last Bosnia-Herzegovina's request to join NATO was accepted.
Finally its main problem is a political one and the country is experiencing major socio-economic problems. Unemployment totals 42%. The GDP fell by 3.4% in 2009 (growth of 0.5% forecast in 2010), the GDP per capita totals 5,000 euros which places Bosnia-Herzegovina 132nd in the world ranking; finally the country, which is extremely mountainous, struggles to attract foreign investment. The liberalisation of the economic system is far from complete: there are still a great number of State owned companies (400 in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina) and the central government still owns the land which companies pay to use.
The Election Stakes
Valentin Inzko has said that the presidential and general elections on 3rd October could help to create impetus to support change in Bosnia-Herzegovina particularly if young people turn out to vote. In his opinion this would only occur if "if the international community remains focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina and the respect of the Dayton Agreements (signed on 14th December 1995 that put an end to the war in former Yugoslavia and which established the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina together with the deployment of a multi-national peacekeeping force) and it continues to enhance a constructive atmosphere in support of constitutional reform." "The country is facing problems that have to be settled quickly," he indicated adding that acts contrary to the Dayton Agreements were on the increase and that "nationalist, aggressive diatribe" had multiplied. The international High Representative admitted that Bosnia-Herzegovina, which still suffers due to a lack of consensus over its future had barely progressed towards the adoption and implementation of reforms that are vital to the country. "Chronic political disagreements occur whilst unemployment continues to rise, living standards fall and the ability of the authorities to satisfy the population's basic needs has systematically been diminished by decreases in revenues," laments Valentin Inzko. He did however highlight the negotiations ongoing with the EU over the possibility for Bosnians to travel without a visa in the Schengen Area, NATO's acceptance of the country's candidature last spring and finally the Serb Parliament's expression of regret in March with regard to the Srebrenica massacre in which around 7,000 Bosniaks were murdered in July 1995.
On a visit to Sarajevo the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton called on the Bosnians to support the politicians on 3rd October who could help their country join the EU. "I hope that during the electoral campaign voters will reflect on the path that Bosnia-Herzegovina has to follow and that they will receive real answers from politicians over the progress they have made on the road to Europe," she declared.
According to a poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the elections will give rise to little change. The three members of the tripartite college of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Haris Silajdzic, Nebojsa Radmanovic and Zeljko Komsic) should remain in office. The only change: the National Democratic Action Party (SDA) may be beaten by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that will become the leading party in the Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Milorad Dodik, credited with 50.7% of the vote, is due to be elected to the Presidency of the Serb Republic of Bosnia. His motto is "the Serb Republic for ever".