During the 2014 General elections the Bosnians had to choose among three presidential candidates from different ethnic backgrounds and elect members for the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Parliament of Federation, the Assemblies of the Cantons, the Presidency of Republika Srpska and the National Assembly of Republika Srpska. Elections did not bring any serious changes, except for the fact that some parties that had formed the government in the past, like SDP (Social Democratic Party), were no longer a strong factor in Bosnian politics. Immediately after the preliminary results of the elections were published, the world media reacted with the words: ‘’Nationalists won Bosnian elections, nothing changes.’’ The media abroad saw the election results as the continuation of the previous state that had kept the country dysfunctional and fed all the nationalisms ––a view that was probably not very far from the truth. However, focusing exclusively on the elections while waiting for dramatic changes to happen in Bosnia is definitely the wrong approach to the problem. It is obvious that the present political structure of the country is a haven for the different kinds of nationalisms, and further that the Dayton Peace Accord’s legacy is dissolving the country day by day. The agreement, which was originally intended just to stop the bloodshed, without serious and effective measures, actually left a dysfunctional state as a legacy. Every serious analysis of Bosnia’s reality leads us to the Dayton Agreement as a source of the problems, and everyone willing to keep the present borders intact hopes for changes in the agreement as the only way of achieving qualitative changes in the system.
Dayton Peace Accord left the country with a very complicated state structure and a weak central government. The country is led by politicians from all the three ethnic backgrounds, who have different agendas and totally different visions for the future of the country. The country is still struggling with politicians from Republika Srpska, which demands to secede from the central government and constitute an independent state, although largely on the rhetorical level. Because of the disunity among the politicians from the Federation and the lethargy of the International Community, however, Republika Srpska managed to position itself as a semi-independent entity. It even opened few Representative Offices throughout the world. On the other hand, some Croatian politicians are trying to set up a third entity which would be semi-independent like Republika Srpska today. They even received some support from Republika Srpska for this purpose. With the weak central government that the agreement left behind, the winner in the elections holds only symbolic power in the Federation part of the country. Republika Srpska, in contrast, has a more centralised system and functions more like a real Republic in its structure than the very divided Federation. Every serious measure taken by any ethnic group can be blocked very easily by the other two. The Bosniak political elite, who are the keenest supporters of a united Bosnia with the present borders, increasingly divide into small parties.
In the last election campaign a higher level of disunity was observed among Bosniak politicians. They had ten different candidates competing for the Bosniak position in Presidency. This was a very high number when compared with the four Croat and three Serb candidates for Bosnian presidency. The candidate of the SDA (Party of Democratic Action), the party the most responsible for the creation of independent state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which led country through the war, and led by the son of the founder of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Bakir İzetbegovic, managed to win 32.86 % of the votes. Despite this fact, he had nine Bosniak rivals running for the same position. This will be the second term of Bakir İzetbegovic in the president’s post. During the campaign, a very strong and offensive rhetoric was used against him by his opponents. It looked like the attacks had been very well planned and synchronised. His strongest opponent was the media tycoon Fahrudin Radoncic, who won 26.78 % of the votes. During the campaign Bakir Izetbegovic was constantly under attack from Radoncic’s media network. What was different from the previous election campaign was that Turkey became a central point of debate for the first time. Almost all the Bosniak candidates and even the American Ambassador constantly attacked Bakir Izetbegovic for his strong links with Turkey and AKP. Some of them even went so far as to say that Ankara became a threat to Bosnia’s independence.
Another important change in the Bosniak political body was the newly established Democratic Front party. It was founded by the Croat ex-representative in Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, after he resigned from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Zlatko Lagumdzija (Bosniak). Some former members of the SDP who were dissatisfied with Lagumdzija, joined Komsic in his newly founded party. Komsic enjoys very high popularity among the Bosnian people, who regard him most successful in alleviating the inter-ethnical tensions in the country and representing an overarching Bosnian identity rather than particular ethnic identities. But since the Bosniaks constitute the ethnic group that is most keen on keeping Bosnia united, Komsic’s voters mainly come from this background –– which is a factor that has led to further splitting of the Bosniak votes. The DF pursued a political agenda similar to that of the SDP, which strove not to be exclusively Bosniak but a Bosnian party. This time Komsic did not run for the Croatian presidency, but his party offered Emir Suljagic, a young Bosniak form Srebrenica, to be a candidate for the Bosniak position in Presidency. Suljagic was also a member the SDP before the split and well known for his struggle in the Republica Srpska entity. Suljagic was unable to achieve a better result than Izetbegovic or Radoncic, but DF achieved a significant success. Even though a newly formed party, it succeeded in entering the parliament both on the entity and the state level. However, this success fostered disunity in the Federation and hardened the position of this entity against the politicians from Republika Srpska, who are about to establish a state parliament.
The competition for the Serbian representatives in the Presidency and parliament, as well as the race for the new Republika Srpska parliament and president, brought along some surprises. Milorad Dodik’s Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), among the parties in Republika Srpska, was the main loser in these elections. Dodik’s party was for long the most powerful party in Republika Srpska’s political scene. His candidate for the position of State president, Zeljka Cvijanovic, gathered 47.56 % of the votes in a hard struggle and lost to Mladen Ivanic, a candidate from the joint opposition (Union for Changes) that won 48.71% of the votes. The same oppositional coalition (SDS, PDP, NDP) succeeded in undermining the position of Dodik’s party in the race for presidency of Republika Srpska. But even though Dodik's party lost its post in the state Presidency, Dodik succeeded in keeping the post of the president of the Republika Srpska with 45.21 % of the votes. His rival was the young Ognjen Tadic from the nationalistic SDS party, who was the candidate of united opposition parties (Union for Changes). He managed to collect 44.18 % of the votes. It seems that the hegemony of SNSD and Dodik, which had lasted many years in Republika Srpska, has come to an end. As Dodik grasped this fact, he harshened his secessionist rhetoric. During the campaign, he visited Vladimir Putin along with Zeljka Cvijanovic, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska at the time and the candidate for presidency.
The competition for the Croat representative in Bosnian presidency was not as tough as that for the Serbian one. Zeljko Komsic had represented the Croats in presidency for many years, and the majority of the Croats were not pleased with the fact that it was actually the Bosniaks who elected the Croat representative by voting for Komsic . This time Komsic was not a candidate for the position. The first of the two main candidates for the position of President was Dragan Covic, leader of Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ,) a party that had led the Croat people throughout the war. HDZ was the main political power that had incited the Bosnians Croats to secede during the war. The Party pursued a Croat nationalistic agenda rather than fighting for a united Bosnia. Covic’s opponent was the more pro-Bosnian Martin Raguz from the HDZ, who broke away from Covic’s HDZ. This party upholds the principles that HDZ had held during the initial years, rather than pursuing the present blind nationalism of HDZ. The competition ended with a very easy victory for Covic. The chief fear of the Croats in Bosnia is that of being marginalized and outvoted because of their small numbers compared to Bosniaks and Serbs, despite the fact that they are one of the three constitutive peoples. Without Komsic as candidate, Covic’s victory was to be expected.
The president in Bosnia and Herzegovina has merely symbolic power, as is the case in many other parliamentary democracies. What is more decisive for Bosnia’s future is who is going to sit in the state Parliament and who is going to form the Cabinet of Ministers. The Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of total 42 mandates, of which 28 are from the Federation and 14 are represented by the parties from Republika Srpska. After the elections, SDA emerged as the strongest power with 9 mandates, with the second SNSD, with 6 mandates, and the third SDS (Serbian Democratic Party), with 5 mandates (the same number as DF). The Croatian party that won the majority of the mandates was HDZ, with 4 mandates.
In the Parliament of Federation SDA was also the strongest party with 19 out of 94 mandates (27.79%), followed by SBB with 16 (14.71%) and DF with 14 mandates (12.90%). HDZ, together with a few smaller parties, was the strongest Croat party in the Federation, with 13 mandates (11.93%).
On the other hand, Republika Srpska’s parliament did not look as fragmented as the state or Federation Parliaments. In the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, SNSD won 29 out of the 83 mandates (32.24%). The second party was SDS, which entered the Assembly together with two smaller parties and managed to win 24 mandates or 26,22%. The third party, Democratic Peoples’ Union (DNS), managed to win just 8 mandates. As a result, the first two parties hold a dominant position compared to the others. Coalition government is a strong possibility in Republika Srpska.
The general impression after the elections is that neither of the parties on the state entities or level have a majority sufficient to establish the kind of strong government needed in the critical period that Bosnia is going through. The country presently suffers an economic crisis with a very high rate of unemployment and corruption. Especially after the disastrous consequences of the recent flood, a huge responsibility awaits the new government for alleviating the effects of the damage. The process of Bosnia’s EU membership is long in a state of hibernation, and there is no clear sign that important changes in this regard will take place in the near future. A strong coalition may push even the parties with the greatest number of mandates to the margins. Winners of the elections will do their best to prevent this, probably by entering into different kinds of coalitions. Wrong steps and petty bickering among the parties may further block the decision making process and the executive institutions, preventing urgent measures from being taken while harsh political rhetoric keeps gaining ground and the internal tensions are flamed by Serbian secessionism as well as by external geopolitical tensions. The Ukrainian crisis has a direct impact on Bosnia, as it became obvious when some Russian fighters visited Republika Srpska and Dodik went to Moscow immediately before the elections.
One of the positive outcomes of the elections is that the SNSD has faced a big loss and that the people in Republika Srpska have favoured economic success over the nationalistic empty rhetoric that Dodik has been using to hide the glom reality that his entity as well as the entire country is now facing.
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Yazar Jahja Muhasilovic