By: Kristina Drye
Photo Credit: Kristina Drye
On October 7, 2018, citizens from Bosnia and Herzegovina went to the polls for national elections. Bosnia, which is still experiencing instability twenty-three years after the Dayton Accords were signed, has a lot to gain from political progress, but little hope of achieving it. The preliminary results of the election indicate that there will be little progress in Bosnia’s political future. As a strategic playground of the West, Russia, China, and Turkey, and a potential member of both the EU and NATO, the results of elections offer indications of what to expect as the country continues to operate as a pawn in the current environment of great power competition.
Bosnia’s political architecture, a direct result of the Dayton Accords, is one of the most complex systems in the world. The country itself is divided into two entities and one administrative District. One entity, the Federation, is comprised of ten cantons divided between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats. The second entity, Republika Srpska (RS) is the primarily-Serbian entity with considerable autonomy. The administrative unit, Brcko, also operates independently. The state government includes a tripartite presidency and a bicameral Parliament with a House of Representatives and a House of Peoples. When Bosnian citizens went to the polls on Sunday, they were electing a new state parliament, both entity assemblies, assemblies in each of the ten cantons, and the overall state presidency.
The tripartite presidency, comprising of three people that represent each of the country’s primary ethnic groups, will include Milorad Dodik of the SNSD Party for the Serbs; Sefik Dzaferovic of the SDA party for the Bosniaks; and Zeliko Komsic of the Democratic Front party for the Croats. [i] Turnout was 53.36 percent from a registered 3,352,933 voters in the country. [ii] [iii] Voters could choose between 53 parties, 36 coalitions, and 34 independent candidates that were confirmed eligible by the Central Election Commission. [iv] For the state presidency, there were 15 candidates including six Bosniaks, five Croats, and four Serbs. [v] Though candidates must run on ethnic lines, it is not required that voters in the Federation vote along ethnic lines. Voters in RS, however, can only vote for a Serb candidate.
Though elections offer a new opportunity for progress in any country, the elections in Bosnia are unlikely to show significant change in the next four years. First, Bosnia’s political process suffers from extreme levels of corruption, which extends to the political parties. [vi] Most independent candidates do not have the funding necessary for bribes or payouts to voters, whereas established parties do. Though the election was monitored, there were hundreds of reports of voter fraud, as well as reports of fake election monitors entering polling stations. [vii]
In addition to corruption, a government must now be formed in the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly. While the 42 members of the House of Representatives are directly elected proportionally, the 15 members of the House of Peoples are indirectly elected by the parliaments of each entity. The matter is further complicated by the constitutional crisis regarding the formation of the House of Peoples in the Parliament of the Federation entity.
In 2016, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia ruled that the election mechanism for the House of Peoples of the Federation entity was constitutionally inconsistent. The Parliament failed to remedy the election law by the deadline, rendering the highlighted sections of the law invalid and the formation of a House of Peoples at the Federation level impossible. It will be impossible to form the state-level House of Peoples in the Parliamentary Assembly, meaning that neither the country nor the Federation entity will be able to adopt legislation. [viii] While this may not matter as much in the short-term, especially because coalition-gaming will continue for months, it will begin to pose significant problems by the time budgets must be voted on early in 2019. There is hope that an agreement to rectify the law will be achieved before then, but in the absence of an agreement the constitutional crisis will persist. If the election law is not remedied, there is a chance that the elections will be nullified. [ix]
Regarding the candidates in the tripartite presidency, there is also cause for concern. The tripartite presidency, while largely ineffective due to equal power among all three members, does have significant sway with respective ethnic groups. Milorad Dodik, who won the Serbian seat of the Presidency with 55 percent of the vote, has previously served as both Prime Minister and President of the RS entity. Dodik has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin of Russia and is the leader of the Serbian nationalist party, advocating for complete autonomy for RS. A convenient proxy for Russian attempts to stop NATO and EU expansion, Dodik will be useful in this position for Russia, but dangerous for Western parties whose ambitions include EU and NATO expansion. Claiming victory, Dodik noted: “It’s a clear-cut victory…I don’t care who the other two representatives in the presidency are. I’m going there, to this presidency, to work above all and only for the interests of the Serbs.” [x] For a tripartite presidency that requires collaboration and diplomacy to function, this is a portentous statement to make on the eve of a four-year term.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak victor, is no surprise. A member of the largest Bosniak Party, the SDA, and a candidate closely aligned to the former President, Bakir Izetbegovic, most analysts believe that he will be predictable and consistent with previous Bosniak policies.
There is some silver lining in the presidential elections. The Croat member of the tripartite presidency, Zeliko Komsic, defeated the nationalist candidate, Dragan Covic. Covic had advocated for the creation of a Croat mini-state, which would further erode hopes of Bosnian citizens for progress and stability. His defeat, and the concurrent defeat of the largest Croat party, the HDZ, indicates that there is some constituent expectation for moderate integration and distaste for nationalist rhetoric on the Croat side.
With these presidential results, EU and NATO expansion with the goal of further Western Balkan integration is further threatened. Domestically, Bosnian citizens can expect months of coalition squabbling and a potential constitutional crisis. Overall, the election results indicate that progress toward unity is unlikely.