Bosnia's Elections, A Hope for Change?

A constitutional change is vital for the country’s future since this structure forms a stalemate promoting ethnic politics through usage of ethnic and regional quotas eliminating the prospects of a civic alternative

Bosnia's Elections, A Hope for Change?

Elif Zaim

Last Sunday on 12th October, Bosnians went to the polls for the 7th time in almost 20 years of peace since 1995. While there were almost 3.3 million eligible voters, the turnout was relatively low resting on 54% due to the widespread hopelessness of the citizens.

In this election a total number of 65 parties, 24 coalitions and 24 independent candidates were contesting for the posts at the national, entity and local levels. Not surprisingly, once again nationalists were the winners.

According to the results, on the Bosniak side, the leader of SDA party Bakir Izetbegovic became the member of the tripartite Bosnian Presidency. While on the other hand Serbian voters had made a partial shift in their votes choosing the opposition leader Mladen Ivanic over the long-term standing Milorad Dodik who was known with his secessionist politics. And finally Croats voted for Dragan Covic from the main Croat HDZ BiH party seeking for a third Croat entity.

So what does this election mean for Bosnia? To understand this and to provide a more accurate analysis a closer look to country’s political system seems necessary. 

An Extraordinary Political System

On 1995 Bosnian war came to an end with the Dayton Peace Agreement. While the agreement fulfilled its main target with ceasing the killings, it also gave birth to one of the most extraordinary political systems in the world.

At that time, just like today, all of the sides being Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs had their own vision of Bosnia. Thus, the Dayton Agreement came out as a reflection of the parties’ attitudes on the ground. As the fundamental paradox was centered upon on what kind of a country Bosnia was about to be, a partitioned or a reunified one, the agreement formulated a unique solution which neither satisfied nor offended anyone.

As a result of this logic, the country was divided into two entities namely Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS) plus the neutral Brcko district.  While the first one was designed as a Bosniak-Croat entity structured in a highly decentralized manner with having ten cantons composed of many municipalities, the latter, Republika Srpska was designed in a much more centralized fashion with a homogenous nature due to its majority Serbian dwellers.

Complicating the issues further as a part of the Dayton Peace Agreement, Annex IV or namely the constitution of Bosnia defined the country as a territory composed of three ethnic groups- Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. This ethnic dimension being injected to every level of the political institutions is so far blocking any kind of meaningful civic alternative.

Looking at this structure closely but rather simply, at the highest level, the country has three Presidents representing each one of the ethnic groups being a Croat, a Serb and a Bosniak. As each consecutive term lasts for four years, there is a rotation in the chairmanship amongst the members in every 8 months. Through this system, to ensure that each ethnic side possesses the right to elect its representative, the Bosniak and Croat Presidents get elected with the votes from FBiH, while the Serbian one is being chosen by the voters in RS.

When it comes to the parliament at the state level, it is bicameral and composed of House of Representatives and House of Peoples. At this stage once again ethnic and regional quotas come into the play. 28 members of the House of Representatives are being elected in FBiH, and 14 in RS making a total number of 42 deputies through regional limitations. On the other hand 15 members of House of Peoples are chosen via indirect elections as each constituent ethnic group has an equal number of members, 5 Croats, 5 Serbs and 5 Bosniaks.

This tangled system also endures in the entity levels, each one having their own parliaments. In terms of FBiH it is further divided into ten cantons and below that many municipalities. On the contrary, RS does not have any cantons. Interestingly both entities also have their own constitutions and ministers aside of constitution of the country and ministries at the state level.

Even this rather simplified picture of Bosnia shows that this highly complex institutional structure both curbs any kind of meaningful political development while it continuously deepens the already existing divisions.  

What Now?

This year during February Bosnia was shaken with the largest protests since the end of the war with the demand of the protestors to put an end to the corruption, unemployment and political stagnation within the country. These citizens being fed up with the incompetent political elites demonstrated for days for a meaningful change in their country.  Unfortunately not much has altered since that time.

In addition to the already existing endemic problems, the devastating floods in May have made the country’s situation even worse while still the damages are in the process of repair.

So what now after this election? It is apparent that all of the ethnic parties as mentioned earlier have their own visions of Bosnia. While Bosniaks want a more unified central state on the road to EU and Nato, Serbs desire for the secession of Republika Srpska and the Croat side seeks for a third entity for themselves. So, in here another question comes to mind, how are they going to work together at all with these divergent wishes and agendas to solve people’s problems?

To answer this gripping question, when one looks at Bosnia, s/he has to consider that there are actually two main dynamics in the stage which shape the country’s future. One is surely the local players or the nationalist parties and the other one which is as equally important as the former is the international community with its Office of High Representative (OHR) in the country. Since OHR had been equipped with incremental powers to assist the country beyond any authority in Bosnia it is actually one of the key figures.

Keeping this in mind and looking at these seven consecutive elections since the end of the war, it becomes apparent that nationalist parties are a firm standing phenomena in Bosnian politics since each and every election they emerge as the winners (except 2000 elections with non-nationalist Alliance for Change Coalition). And to overcome the deadlock which these nationalist parties produce through their paradoxical policies, it seems that a more decisive OHR using his powers to encourage and compel them to work together for a better Bosnia is essential.

Also a constitutional change is vital for the country’s future since this structure forms a stalemate promoting ethnic politics through usage of ethnic and regional quotas eliminating the prospects of a civic alternative.

For Bosnia, at the moment it is not useful to mourn over the success of the nationalist parties at the after the Sunday elections, but it is the time to think through and act decisively what can be done with it to put the country on the track of development and prosperity. Unfortunately as the time passes Bosnians hope for a better future vanishes day by day while the international community forgets the problems of the country since there are many other conflicting regions in the world which are in need of urgent attention.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Ekim 2014, 15:49

Muhammed Öylek