BiH 2018 general election: Can the election give birth to a Bosnian Zaev?


The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. In view of the beginning of the campaign for the 8th general election in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) which is to take place on 7 October 2018 IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in that country. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “BiH 2018 general election: Can the election give birth to a Bosnian Zaev?” are published below.

BiH 2018 general election:

Can the election give birth to a Bosnian Zaev?

The eighth general election in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be held on 7 October 2018 when members of BiH Presidency, delegates to the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, delegates to the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Federation of BiH, President of Republika Srpska, two Vice-Presidents of Republika Srpska and delegates to the National Assembly of Republika Srpska, as well as members of the 10 cantonal assemblies in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be elected.


The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Bosnia and Herzegovina has validated 139 political entities (69 political parties, 36 coalitions and 34 independent candidates) to run at the election on 7 October 2018. After the verification procedure it endorsed 804 regular candidate lists with altogether 7.497 candidates including independent candidates. There are in total 3,352,933 registered voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, of which 77,814 will vote from abroad.


Is CEC contaminated and compromised?


Since 2002 CEC has carried out elections and implemented election results at all levels of authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina independently and without the interference of foreign officials. However, numerous deficiencies and unresolved doubts were detected in practice. It is a known fact that CEC members are exponents of political parties and certain centres of power. Being engaged in politicking and supporting their political sponsors they often go beyond the constitutional and legal framework. A recent affair has revealed that 35.8 tons of paper purchased for printing ballot papers disappeared from the warehouse of the Central Election Commission. There were many cases when CEC members, including its president Irena Hadžiabdić, held unauthorised and secret meetings with certain actors involved in the election process and other interested individuals, which points to the question whether the existing members of the CEC are capable of conducting a legal, transparent and fair election.


Even though the new Election Law was still not passed, CEC and its leader  Hadžiabdić were ready to adopt the decision on dividing the mandates for the House of Peoples of the Federation of BiH in order to satisfy Dragan Čović's (HDZ) desire to adopt the so called Lex Čović discriminative law. This would ensure his re-election as the Croat member of BiH Presidency and enable him to select the delegates for the House of Peoples of the Federation of BiH according to his preferences or the preferences of HDZ.


CEC's task should be to deal with numerous anomalies and cases of discrimination in the election process, such as the unbalanced number of voters in constituencies regarding the election of House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. CEC has been involved in numerous irregularities and dubious activities


Why CEC doesn't deal with issues such as the elimination of asymmetry between the roles and competences of entity presidents and vice-presidents? Why it doesn't ensure the second round of elections for members of BiH Presidency, bearing in mind that a large number of candidates may lead to the election of a Presidency member who has only received 20% of votes from the electorate. The same applies to the election of mayors, which does not enable the second round. It should be ensured that the three key functions in the entities (i.e. the entity  president, the entity prime minister and the speaker of the entity parliament) are held by persons from three different ethnic communities. The BiH election law is discriminatory, which has also been confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgements in Sejdić-Finci, Pilav and Zornić cases. One cannot run as a candidate for BiH Presidency member unless they belong to one of the so called constitutive nations (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats). Moreover, in the House of Peoples there is no parity principle in the representation of delegates who do not belong to the constitutive nations. It is discriminatory that for members of BiH Presidency only Bosniaks and Croats can be elected from the Federation and only Serbs from Republika Srpska.


CEC even adopted the decision in which it approved that Serbian Radical Party – dr. Vojislav Šešelj may run in election despite the fact that the party's name contains the name of the finally convicted war criminal Vojislav Šešelj. This also puts under question the role of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) Valentin Inzko, who failed to intervene by adopting the decision to prohibit legal and political entities from bearing the names of convicted war criminals. Analysts believe that OHR should have adopted such a decision which would stipulate the withdrawal of civil liberties and rights to persons who were convicted of war crimes and genocide by a final judgement both by ICTY and BiH courts, as well as any other court in the world. For example, in the USA, persons convicted of the most serious crimes are withdrawn their civil liberties and rights. Bosnia and Herzegovina should follow that example in order to establish the truth, achieve justice and reach reconciliation in this country which still suffers the grave consequences of the armed international conflict in its territory during the 1992-1995 period.


CEC decisions may be contested through the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is together with the BiH Prosecutor's Office controlled by their political sponsors and thus caught in the vicious circle of political and other powers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Revealing Russia's and Serbia's role in BiH


A proof of Russia's involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the announced visit by President of Republika Srpska entity Milorad Dodik and Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of October 2018, i.e. immediately before the election in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In international relations it is inconceivable that Russia's President receives a president of some region of another country, except if the visitor is an exponent of Russia's politics in that region. In this case Dodik obviously acts in Russian interests which are primarily focused on changing the borders, preventing BiH from gaining NATO full membership and eventually also on breaking Bosnia and Herzegovina apart and creating tensions in the region.  The same aims were pursued during the visited of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Banja Luka on 17 September 2018.


Although formally he advocates territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in practice acts contrary to his statements on respecting the borders and striving for peace and stability in the region.


Aleksandar Vučić's destructive politics is based on the following key elements: ● not facing the past but rather promoting and abiding by Milošević's military ideology and structure which is unfriendly towards the West and NATO  ● leading a schizophrenic foreign policy based on the Russian Federation and causing instability in the region and in Europe ● the autocratic internal regime as illustrated by media control, brutal treatment of the opposition and liquidation of political opponents, as well as offering unprincipled political support to Serbs outside Serbia and exploiting them together with Serbian Orthodox Church for creating crises in countries in the region.


Vučić has often publicly stated that he does not want to interfere in other countries' inner affairs.  However, this is just his official rhetoric, while the reality is different. Thus, Vučić is to visit Dodik on 5 October 2018, i.e. two days before the election in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to attend the opening of a hospital in East Sarajevo. This clearly shows disharmony between his words and acts and puts his credibility under question.


The mistakes of Union for Victory


Union for Victory (Savez za pobedu – SzP) is the coalition of opposition parties in the BiH entity of Republika Srpska. It is comprised of Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), Democratic People's Alliance (NDP) and some minor parties. SzP strongly opposes the current coalition in Republika Srpska which unites the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Democratic People's Union  (DNS) and Socialist Party (SP).


SzP has made several crucial mistakes in its confrontation with Milorad Dodik. SDS former leader Mladen Bosić formed a coalition with Dodik in the BiH Parliamentary Assembly while in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska SDS acted as the opposition to Dodik and his SNSD. During the first three years of his mandate as BiH Presidency member Mladen Ivanić often “flirted” with Dodik, serviently obeying the latter and following his nationalistic politics instead of taking the initiative and offering a different, original strategy that would unite the nations and ensure a better life for the citizens. SzP fell into the trap set up by Dodik who marked it with the label of a traitor. Not knowing how to respond appropriately to Dodik's hoax, SzP clumsily tried to justify their actions. It should be noted that Dodik gained power in Republika Srpska with assistance from the West, mainly the USA and SFOR armoured vehicles, and that later he even expressed support to NATO during the bombing of Serbia. Dodik is exploiting the incapacity of the EU and OHR and the lack of attention paid to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the USA.


Čović's strategic mistake – Dodik


President of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Croat member of BiH Presidency Dragan Čović has established close political and interest-based alliance with Milorad Dodik and SNSD. Čović supports the politics of one part of HDZ from Croatia who believe that the Croats and the Serbs can make an agreement without the third nationality, i.e. the Bosniaks. However, he ignores the fact that most Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats have strong patriotic feelings towards their homeland. Roman Catholic Church (RCC) plays an important role in this patriotism through Bosnian Franciscans who have remained loyal to Bosnia throughout the long history and are therefore called the guardians of Bosnia.  Čović's strategy of resolving all issues through Banja Luka (the entity of Republika Srpska) has proven to be disastrous for the Bosnian Croats and Dodik has turned out to be his strategic mistake.


HDZ leaders have turned out to be one of the most criminalised political groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past 30 years, which further aggravates the position of Croats in this country. Departure from HDZ's politics therefore represents an important contribution to decriminalisation of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have found themselves in a difficult situation due to criminal activities of their leaders.  According to ICTY final judgements the Republic of Croatia participated in joint criminal enterprise (JCE) against Bosnia and Herzegovina. This represents a historical burden for the Republic of Croatia, therefore this country should not allow its politics to experience yet another fiasco in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republic of Serbia is in a similar position – according to ICTY it also participated in the international armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina final judgements and thus acted as an aggressor against the latter.


The (Croat) leader of Democratic Front (DF) Željko Komšić's candidacy for the forthcoming election has shaken up Čović's position, for it will be hard for him to compete with Komšić and his political concept. It is little known that Komšić received the Vatican recognition award Commando con placca dell'Ordine Pano from Holy See for his contribution to the conclusion of the agreement between Vatican City and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Analysts have received worrying information that election fraud is being prepared in order to prevent Željko Komšić from becoming the Croat member of BiH Presidency. A similar fraud is also being prepared for Denis Bećirović and Mladen Ivanić, which points to the question of CES's role in the preparation of election frauds. IFIMES will closely follow those processes and strengthen its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the forthcoming general election in this country and  inform the public accordingly.  


SDAs' fiasco in the Sarajevo Canton


The Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has achieved a historical victory at previous general election in 2014. Citizens' expectations were very high, especially in regions where SDA enjoyed absolute majority. However, it soon turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. SDA did not justify the trust voters had vested in it. It soon experienced internal turmoil and the secession of almost one half of this largest parliamentary party.  Some very influential mayors left SDA. The problems first occurred in the Tuzla canton where SDA completely lost authority. Turbulences followed in the Sarajevo Canton, the Una-Sava Canton and in many municipalities.


SDA often pointed out that it was not able to realise numerous projects due to obstructions caused by the Croatian and Serbian side. However, despite its absolute power in the Sarajevo Canton its activities there ended in a complete fiasco. This canton has more revenues than the whole Republika Srpska and the rest of the BiH Federation.  Although the city of Sarajevo is surrounded with mountains and abundant water springs, its citizens often underwent water cut-offs, especially in summer months. Internal clashes and a feudal approach to politics by a small number of powerful families, as well as the conflict with the war veterans have seriously  undermined citizens' trust in SDA. The situation in three main spheres of social life: health, education and security (including the police) has never been so critical in the Sarajevo Canton . The responsibility for this situation is equally divided between the Sarajevo Canton former Prime Minister Elmedin Konaković (SDA) and incumbent Prime Minister Adem Zolj (SDA), as well as the ministers in the Sarajevo Canton government and the SDA-SBB-BPS coalition which holds majority seats in the Sarajevo Canton Assembly.


Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the largest opposition party is trying to capitalise on SDA's mistakes and take over the leading position. However, SDP also made mistakes in the past, especially during the leadership of Zlatko Lagumdžija who made huge efforts to gain control over public resources, especially in the profitable public companies, through negative selection of staff and connections with certain controversial individuals. Should it change its approach SDP may become an important actor in BiH political scene. Almost all political parties in this country have to go through the process of internal decriminalisation. SDP is the party which has announced a generation change in the political scene. The candidacy of Denis Bećirović for member of BiH Presidency may represent the sign of generation change and a new approach in politics that would put the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens at the forefront.


Can the election give birth to a Bosnian Zaev?


Political changes in Macedonia and the election of Zoran Zaev (SDSM) as Prime Minister represent a new wind in the region, especially for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Zaev's Social Democratic Union of Macedonia(SDSM) has become the key party in the new government of the Republic of Macedonia. Zaev's political doctrine is based on the “one society for everyone” concept, i.e. the society that is inclusive for everyone regardless of their ethnic, religious, political or any other affiliation and in which everyone strives for the prosperity of the country and all its citizens. The concept was also well accepted among some Bosnian-Herzegovinian politicians such as Denis Bećirović whose political concept is based on Bosnia and Herzegovina as one country for all its citizens. His inclusive politics represents a new quality on BiH political scene, and his candidacy for BiH Presidency has received broad support from a range of different political actors and individuals. This could be the basis for forming a strong pro-Bosnian front. The victory of Bećirović and his concept at election would give hope, especially to the young generation, that changes are possible in this country.  Bosnia and Herzegovina may give birth to its own Zaev at the forthcoming election, but that requires changes in circumstances in the neighbouring countries and at the international level.  


The concept of national and nationalist parties has proven to be baleful for Bosnia and Herzegovina, since it is  contrary to the country's very essence. The concepts of multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society represent the values for which Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens are recognised as unique and admired in the world.  


Experience has shown that the national and nationalistic concepts have devastated this country for the past 30 years: the 1990s war was followed with the development of nationalistic-criminal politics that have turned this country with enormous potentials into the poorest state in Europe. At the forthcoming elections BiH citizens will have the opportunity to decide whether they want changes or they still support the devastating politics and clerical-nationalism that have brought them nothing but decades of regression. Voting for changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a pen in the hand would be the sign that the spirit of Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev and his success in the Republic of Macedonia is spreading in the region. The election campaign will provide certain answers regarding the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Analysts have noted that about 50% of BiH citizens do not turn out at elections, which means that election results in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not decided by those who vote but by those who do not vote. Therefore, unsparing efforts should be made to “wake up” those passive voters, especially the young, and ensure the atmosphere in which they would give their votes to reputable and uncompromised candidates. Stopping massive emigration from Bosnia and Herzegovina will probably be the most important task for future politicians. The participation of women and the young in BiH politics is minimal. The long-standing political structures have created barriers for those who are not under their direct or indirect control to prevent them from entering the political scene. Introduction of compulsory voting should be considered in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the model in some other democratic countries which require eligible citizens of lawful age to vote at elections and impose penalties on citizens who fail to turn out and cast a vote.


Ljubljana, 23 September 2018   

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