Presidential and general elections in Bosnia 5th October 2002


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


5 October 2002

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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

The first presidential and general elections organised by the local authorities are to take place on 5th October in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The three previous to this were held under the control of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 2.35 million voters will be called to ballot to elect the collegial presidency, the Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the individual Parliaments of each entity (the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb Republic). The same day voters in the Serb Republic will also elect their President.

The Bosnian Political System

The Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina comprises the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb Republic. Each has its own political institution.

In the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina, which comprises both a Croat and a Bosnian part, the President (Croat) just as the Prime Minister (Bosnian) and the Deputy-Prime Minister (Croat) are elected by Parliament. This comprises two Houses : the House of Representatives, with 140 MP's elected by universal suffrage and the House of the People with 60 representatives plus 60 other members (30 Bosnians and 30 Croats) appointed by the local Assemblies.

The main political parties in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina are:

The Party for Democratic Action (SDA), the majority in the Chamber of Representatives and whose President in Alija Izetbegovic,

The Social Democrat Party (SDP),

The Democratic Croat Community of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ-BiH)

The Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SzBiH).

The Serb Republic of Bosnia is ruled by a President, at present Mirko Sarovic, elected by universal suffrage. His Parliament is mono-cameral, comprising the National Assembly with 140 MP's elected proportionally. The main political groups are:

the Democratic Serb Party (SDS), the Parliamentary majority,

the Democratic Progress Party (PDP)

the Independent Social Democrat Party (SNSD).

In addition to this the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina has a collegial presidency elected for four years, comprising three members, a Croat, a Serb and a Bosnian, elected by universal suffrage by their community. The presidency is governed alternately every eight months by each of the different communities. The President of the Council of Ministers is appointed by the presidency. He appoints the ministers and the deputy ministers. The latter must not belong to the same ethnic group as the ministers they are governed by. The Parliament has two chambers and comprises the House of Representatives and the House of the People. The latter has 15 members (five Bosnians, five Serbs and five Croats) appointed by the House of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and by the National Assembly of the Serb Republic of Bosnia. The House of Representatives has 42 MP's elected for two years, 28 for the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina and 14 for the Serb Republic.

The Election Stakes

The Dayton Agreements (21st November 1995), signed in Paris on 14th December 1995, that put an end to the war between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians plan, via various organisations, for the international community to help in the political and economic development of Bosnia-Herzegovina in a peaceful environment that respects the fundamental principles of the United Nations (democracy and respect for Human Rights).

At present the country is a Confederation under the tutelage of the High Representative of the UN (Paddy Ashdown since 27th May 2002). The latter has major powers: he can enforce the laws of the Bosnian institutions or dismiss any person whose activities are contrary to democratic principles. The international community guarantees the country's stability - 19,000 men belonging to NATO's stabilisation force (SFOR) ensure the country's security. Today Bosnia-Herzegovina lives on foreign aid (the national debt is to reach 120 million Euros in 2003). The central institutions enjoy very weak power, the two entities both have their own political institutions but also their own army, police force and judicial system etc... Because of this Bosnia-Herzegovina at present has 13 Prime Ministers, 180 Ministers, 1,200 judges and prosecutors, 760 lawmakers, four different levels of government and three armies. In this country that has today 3.8 million inhabitants (of which 43.7% Bosnian Muslims, 31.4% Bosno-Serbs and 17.3 Bosno-Croats), national reconstruction is slow and suffers from the lack of a common vision amongst the three populations. The Bosnian Muslims are the only ones who want a united Bosnia whereas the most nationalist Serbs or Croats can only envisage being integrated into their respective ‘mother countries'. The central government is struggling to establish an inter-community infrastructure which is under their control (customs, banks, railways). Progress has however been made: the refugees are starting to return to their homes and a market economy is gradually falling into place. However, although violence has stopped, peace is still incomplete and the country's democracy mainly depends on the activities undertaken by the international community.

The last general elections on 11th November 2000 brought a multi-ethnic coalition to power and confirmed the exclusion of the nationalist parties. In July 2000 the Bosnian Constitutional Court indicated that the two entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not offer equal status to the peoples living there. Wolfgang Petrisch the UN's High Representative at the time set up constitutional commissions within the two entities whose mission it was to write in Constitutional amendments that aimed to provide a more just representation for each of the three communities. In spite of the problems that arose in the Serb Republic on 27th March 2002 nine parties came to an agreement to revise the constitution giving wider powers to the ethnic minorities via a more equitable proportional representation. However only three groups have officially approved this agreement: the Social Democrat Party (SDP), the Party for Bosnia Herzegovina (SZBIH) and the New Croat Initiative (NHI). Several other popular parties such as the Democratic Croat Party of Bosnia Herzegovina (HDZ-BiH) and the Bosnian Party for Democratic Action (SDA) refused to sign and four Serbian political groups expressed their strongest reserves. The agreement was also signed by the UN's High Representative, the Ambassador for the US and the Spanish Ambassador who was representing the EU. The agreement aims to enable each of the three communities to be symmetrically represented in each of the country's two entities. A second assembly called the Council of the People comprising individuals from each of the three communities and which is elected proportionally according to the 1991 census figures, was created in the Serb Republic of Bosnia with the aim to protect the "vital interests" of the Muslim and Croat populations living there. The agreement also stipulates that the government of the Serb Republic will now comprise 16 ministers of which 8 are Serbs, 5 Bosnians and 3 Croats and that the government of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina will also include 16 portfolios eight of which will be taken care of by Bosnians, five by Croats and three by Serbs. In addition to this citizens of the three communities will be able to occupy legal, judicial and executive positions within the entities creating a Bosnia-Herzegovina that is proportional to the number registered on the electoral roles. These constitutional reforms were greeted as an historic step by the entire international community.

Just one month from the election tension is mounting between the different communities. On 3rd September the Bosnian Serbs requested the International Criminal Court for ex-Yugoslavia the right to try seven former Bosnian officers suspected of war crimes (the local Bosnian courts can try war crimes suspects with the ICC's permission). A report was published by the government's co-ordination office with the ICC for ex-Yugoslavia in the Serb Republic that day minimising the massacre in Srebrenica. According to the ICC six to eight thousand Bosnian Muslims, men and young boys, were killed when the Srebrenica enclave fell into Serb hands. Around six thousands bodies have been dug up to date. For his role in supervising the executions General Radislav Krstic one of the commanders of the Serb forces in Srebrenica at the time of the massacre has been condemned to 46 years in prison for genocide. The report published in the Serb Republic asserts that the suggested number of dead is "obviously exaggerated" and estimated the figure of soldiers killed at 2,000.The EU and the USA have shown their indignation at the publication of this report - the UN's High Representative qualifies it as being "tendentious, absurd and provocative". Paddy Ashdown has also said that he wants no responsible politician to put his name to this text, particularly "as the elections that involve the future and not the re-writing of Bosnia Herzegovina's history draw closer". Let us hope that his voice is heard and that the election on 5th October heralds a new step on the road to reconciliation for the three communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Summary of general election results 11th November 2000

in the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina:

Source Organisation for the security and co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

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