2020 Local elections in BiH: Introduction into tectonic changes on the political scene

International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. On the occasion of local elections in BiH, scheduled to take place on 15 November 2020, IFIMES analyzed the election campaign finale. We bring the most important and most interesting excerpts from the analysis titled “2020 Local elections in BiH:Introduction into tectonic changes on the political scene.”

2020 Local Elections in BiH:


Introduction into tectonic changes on the political scene


The election campaign for local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will take place on 15 November 2020, is entering its final phase. The overall number of voters is 3.283.194. At the upcoming elections, the number of voters who will vote by mail is significantly increased and totals 101,771. At the 2020 local elections, 30,809 candidates will compete for positions in the future local authorities.  There are 543 political entities participating in the local elections. Specifically, 129 political parties, 262 independent candidates, 72 coalitions, nine lists of independent candidates and 71 independent candidates from ethnic minorities.


At the elections, 64 municipal councils in the Federation of BiH, 56 municipal assemblies in Republika Srpska, 120 municipal mayors, 22 city mayors and 31 representative of the BiH Brčko District Assembly will be elected.Candidates for positions of municipal/city mayors are predominantly men. The Gender Equality Law prescribes a quota of 40% for the less represented gender, while the BiH Election Law regulates that the candidate lists must include at minimum 40% of representatives of the less represented gender.


Although these are local elections, their relevance goes far beyond the local level, because after the fall of the regime of Milo Đukanović and the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Montenegro and the victory of Joseph Biden (D) at the US presidential elections, a window of opportunity for tectonic changes on the political scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been created. Furthermore, reshuffling has already begun at the political scene in the entity of Republika Srpska (RS). The results of local election will inform to a significant extent further developments on the political landscape in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the general elections, which are envisaged to take place on 2 October 2022. Namely, there is a real threat of election fraud/theft, because these elections could be a prelude to the fall of the regime. The spiral of election fraud and theft in Bosnia and Herzegovina has to be stopped, once and for all.


At the beginning of the election campaign, International Institute IFIMES published an analysis titled „2020 Local Elections in BiH: Wave of political changes moves from Montenegro to Bosnia and Herzegovina“, 20 October 2020, link: https://www.ifimes.org/en/9917 .


Unprincipled coalitions at local level


Local elections are specific, because they are related to self-governance that is the local level of government with which citizens have most contact in the course of solving their daily life problems. That is why it is important to whom they will give their vote. As these elections are related to local communities, majority of citizens know the candidates and the local problems, which is where the image and trustworthiness of candidates comes into play. This is why at local elections there is such a large number of independent candidates and independent local lists, which emerge as political subject at the level of just one local community. Another characteristic of local elections is that parties enter into unprincipled coalitions with political subjects that are their fierce political opponents at higher levels of the government. In fact, there is a plethora of examples of coalitions of the kind.


In the entity of Republika Srpska unprincipled coalitions have been established in Šamac, Čelinac, Teslić and Bratunac. In Šamac, the candidate for the position of the municipal mayor from the ruling People's Democratic Movement (NDP) is supported by the opposition SDS (Serb Democratic Party) party. In Bratunac, the United Srpska (US) party, which is a part of the ruling coalition, supports the candidate of the opposition for the position of the municipal mayor, and not the SNSD candidate.


In Srebrenica, the grouping of coalitions (Bosniak and Serb) is based on ethnic affiliations, which is not good for democracy and modern democratic processes. In fact, two official Serb candidates have withdrawn their candidacies for the position of the municipal mayor in Srebrenica, to support the candidacy of the current Mayor of the Srebrenica Municipality Mladen Grujičić, which is an indication of political corruption and/or intimidation. Furthermore, the fact that over the past three months a total of 940 persons have requested and been approved residence in the Srebrenica Municipality raises the question of regularity of the electoral roll.


There is a large number of independent lists and independent candidates who are competing at the local elections, because the reputation and trustworthiness often tend to be more important than partisan affiliations.


Analysts believe that the leading political parties are deceiving the public, because they nominate current ministers and parliamentary representatives at local elections, although it is clear that they will not step down from the positions they hold to become members of municipal councils or mayors.


(Ab)use of Covid-19 epidemic and effect on election results


The 2020 local elections in BiH are taking place at the time of the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is why mass election campaign events were not possible. Nevertheless, some political parties have been violating the prescribed epidemiological measures restricting the number of attendees at mass gatherings. However, the key issue is whether the authorities, that is individuals, will be held accountable for the death of a large number of citizens resulting from the poor reaction and response to the Covid-19 pandemic.


The epidemiological situation must not be abused or used as an excuse, because the elections have to be free, honest and fair.


Milorad Dodik's (SNSD) regime introduced a ban on mass gatherings to hinder and impede the election campaign of the opposition parties, but also to reduce the turnout at the elections, as a low turnout would suit Dodik (SNSD) the best.


By restricting the number of observers engaged on the day of elections because of the (epidemiological) recommendations and the prescribed 1.5 m distance, the Central Election Commission (CIK) has violated the BiH Election Law.


Some political parties will probably attempt to use the difficult epidemiological situation in BiH to prevent unpartisan and some partisan observers from being present at specific polling stations. They will do so for the purposes of election theft.  Nonpartisan observers must be enabled to be present at the polling stations, as otherwise everything would be left in the hands of the political parties, which would have a free hand to commit various malfeasances and control the election process.


Analysts warn of “trade” in positions in electoral boards, which is contrary to the BiH Election Law. Namely, the BiH Election Law regulates that political subjects verified for participation at elections can have only one representative in an electoral board. Increased deregistration and registration of voters has been recorded in seven municipalities, including Srebrenica, which is an indication of possible electoral engineering. An increasing trend and number of election irregularities has been recorded - from one election cycle in Bosnia and Herzegovina to another.


By separating from DNS and SP Dodik is headingtowards political disappearance


The decision of the Democratic People's Alliance (DNS) to withdraw from the ruling coalition was a herald of tectonic quakes on the political scene. Since the arrival of Nenad Nešić to the helm of the party, the DNS affirmed the principle of institutional protection of interests of Republika Srpska, in full compliance with the Dayton peace accords and all international and national legal norms.


The citizens of Republika Srpska have great expectations from Petar Đokić's Socialist Party (SP), which recently freed itself of a group of “Dodikovacs” (Dodik's men) in its ranks, who were connected with the criminal milieu.Namely, they expect that the SP will also withdraw from the ruling coalition and is such a way tip the scale in favor of overthrow of Milorad Dodik's regime. Three smaller political parties, including the Party of Pensioners, have also signaled that the SP would get a broad support for withdrawing from the coalition. According to relevant polls, at the local elections the SNSD will lose in the city of Banja Luka(the city of unresolved murders), while the outcome is uncertain in Bijeljina, Prijedor and Trebinje, where the opposition has a bigger chance to triumph. Namely, this is why the SNSD has intensified its activities on putting pressure on voters, purchase of voters as well as illegal registration of voters abroad.


Milorad Dodik will inevitably end like Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE) and his regime will be dismantled. Gruevski's regime was definitely defeated at the local elections in North Macedonia on 15 October 2017. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the opposition parties in both entities have the chance the play the role that the Social-Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) had played as the leader of all citizens in the dismantling of the regime in North Macedonia. It has been noticed that Dodik had been investing significant resources to be removed from the “black list” of the US administration. Namely, Dodik was “black listed” because his political actions make him a risk to US national security and interests. Although it is common knowledge that according to US legislation lobbying aimed at removal from the „black list“ is prohibited, Dodik has untransparently spent enormous amounts of shady money hoping to get removed  from the US “black list.”


Citizens expect from Đokić's Socialist Party to withdraw from the coalition


The reshuffling  at the political scene of Republika Srpska begun with the withdrawal of the Democratic People's Alliance (DNS) from the ruling and longest coalition of SNSD-DNS-SP. Namely, when Nenad Nešić came to the helm of the DNS, the party opted for a different political path and agenda.  Specifically, one that will be in the interest of citizens/voters, because the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) has based its political activities primarily on survival in power at all cost, combined with accumulation of wealth and the plunder of public resources headed by Milorad Dodik, members of his family and his cronies.


The citizens of Republika Srpska have great expectations from Petar Đokić's Socialist Party (SP), which recently freed itself of a group of “Dodikovacs” (Dodik's men) in its ranks. Namely, they expect that the SP will also withdraw from the ruling coalition and is such a way tip the scale in favor of overthrow of Milorad Dodik's regime. The Socialist Party was the first to respond to Dodik's primitive policy of announcement of withholding of support, particularly in Banja Luka. According to the relevant polls, at the local elections the SNSD will lose in the city of Banja Luka,and judging by everything also in Bijeljina, Prijedor and Trebinje, which are the major cities in the entity. Dodik has obviously ignored the fact that the Socialist Party is a stable party, which would improve their election results, just like the DNS.


A year or more ago, Milorad Dodik embraced the concept that he and his party should take the credit for all the successes made in the conditions of growth of the budget, salaries, pensions, investments, real employment, etc. and thus eliminate all other key actors.However, the Covid-19 pandemic has spoiled his plans and all this has now become a burden that he needs to shoulder on his own. His people have started to doubt the concept of his policy and have established contacts on other sides.


It is symptomatic that on 21 October 2020 Nenad Nešić had been expressly invited to the Republika Srpska Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) to be interviewed within the framework of the investigation into alleged abuse of office that the Crimes Police Department of the Republika Srpska MUP had initiated earlier. Nešić responded to the summons, but refused to give a statement to police officers. According to available information the interview was related to alleged abuse of office with respect to a tender in the Public Company “Putevi Republike Srpske (Republika Srpska Roads).


Analysts believe that Milorad Dodik should have been interviewed before Nenad Nešić. In the situation in which the rating of the DNS and Đokić's Socialist Party is increasing, Dodik has prepared a scenario to try to weaken and damage the Socialist Party. Namely, a small group of “Dodikovacs” from the Socialist Party had established a new party in a criminal way and with full Dodik's support. All this confirms the fact that there is no processing of serious crimes or pressing of charges, and thatonlysensational and/or framed indictments get issued.


According to analysts, Dodik's attack on the DNS and the Socialist Party (SP) was the worst possible move, as he lost his most sincere and loyal political partners, and brought into the system his political opponents. This caused a demotivating effect on the coalition andhad negatively resonated with the citizens of Republika Srpska.


Local elections– test for SDA


Since its inception the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) had experiences many political ferments and divisions. The most renowned divisions in the SDA culminated in the separation of Adil Zulfikarpašić from the SDA, which happened shortly after the establishment of the party, and the subsequent separation of Fikret Abdić and Haris Silajdžić from the party. The SDA is not a typical political party, but more a movement or a conglomerate of various interests. However, essentially, it maintained the role of the leading political party in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has always been in power at all levels of the government, except for a brief period of time.


Elections in the capital of BiH, that is the Sarajevo Canton, will be a test for the SDA. Namely, eight mayors of nine municipalities and the Sarajevo City Mayor are from the SDA.


At the local elections the ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA) will test its power against a coalition consisting of four political parties: Social Democratic Party (SDP), Our Party (NS), Independent BiH List (NBL) and the People and Justice party (NiP). This four-party coalition, dubbed “Quadripartite”, has published its election program titled “2020 Sarajevo Response”, which includes 29 principles that are the basis for its work. That is why the local elections will be a kind of a plebiscite on FOR or AGAINST the ruling SDA. Unfortunately, nobody has offered a solution according to which the city of Sarajevo would have larger competencies and an organization appropriate for a capital of the state in which the Sarajevo mayor and the city council would be elected directly at elections, and not indirectly, that is by the delegates. Future developments in the SDA will depend on the results achieved at the local elections.


(Il)legitimate (city) mayors


Anomalies of the election law in BiH are visible at the level of local elections as well. The law does not provide for the second round of elections in the election of (city) mayors. Namely, the candidate that wins the largest number of votes in the first and only round of voting becomes the mayor of the municipality/city, which diminishes their legitimacy. This is particularly evident in the municipalities and cities where several candidates compete for the position of the mayor of the city/ municipality.


Analysts believe that through future modifications of the BiH Election Law it is necessary to regulate that the elected mayors of municipality/city have to win a simple majority of votes in the 1st or 2nd round of elections of mayors, so that their (il)legitimacy would not be brought into question. The situation is the same with the election of members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where there is also no second round of elections at which a candidate would win a simple majority of votes.Currently, because of the large number of candidates the candidate who wins the largest number of votes gets elected. Furthermore, it is also important to find a solution for participation of minority ethnic communities at all levels of the government.


Andrej Plenković and HDZ involved in local elections in BiH


The Republic of Croatia is a full-fledged member of the European Union and NATO, which are serious associations that request compliance with and implementation of highest democratic and legal standards.


The Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and HDZ Croatia President Andrej Plenković (HDZ) recently met in Zagreb with the representative of the HDZ BiH Municipal Board for Tomislavgrad and the candidate at the upcoming elections for the position of the mayor.


The Croatian Minister of European and Foreign Affairs Gordan Grlić Radman (HDZ) visited municipalities in West Herzegovina together with senior HDZ BiH officials and in such a way actively participated in the election campaign.


Analysts believe that the biggest interference in the election process at the upcoming elections are actually the activities of the security-intelligence apparatus of the Republic of Croatia on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed at assisting the HDZBiH to triumph at the local elections. The question to be asked is what is the security-intelligence apparatus of Croatia, an EU and NATO member, doing on the territory of the neighboring state of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Particularly bearing in mind that the final and binding judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) stipulate that Croatia had participated in the international armed conflict on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the joint criminal enterprise against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now it is up to the EU and NATO bodies to respond, because such actions of Croatia undermine the image and trustworthiness of the EU and NATO, not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also in the international community.


Biden's victory and its effect on local elections in BiH


It will not be possible to implement tectonic political changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina without strong assistance and support of the internationally community, and particularly the US leadership in coordination and close cooperation with the EU. The diagnosis of the situation in BiH in well known, and what is now needed is the therapy. The election of Joseph Biden as the next US President opens a new window of opportunity to resolve the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While confirmation that changes are possible comes from North Macedonia and Montenegro, the finalization of the political dialogue between official Belgrade and Priština instills hope that the Western Balkans region can move towards a better and more certain future. Changes are not possible with the political leaders who, for three decades already, have not worked on the betterment of their communities and states.


Analysts believe that over the past several decades through their engagements the political and religious structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina have tried to “kill” in the citizens any idea of normality, normalization of relations and improvement of the situation in this Balkan state. Namely, they have held their respective voters and/or believers as hostages, which they use to remain in power through the phenomenon of the so-called “redundant people”. It is necessary to redefine the role of Bosniakhood, Serbhood and Croathood in line with the new circumstances, as well as the role and mission of the three major religious communities in BiH (Islamic Community in BiH, Serb Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church).


International Institute IFIMES believes that these elections will be important for local development and improvement of living conditions of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but will simultaneously be a fight for management of local communities. Namely, the communities will be managed either by honorable, capable, competent, diligent persons, who will offer the best they can to the citizens of their respective communities, or individuals whose primary goal, for a number of years already, has been fulfillment of their parochial and partisan interests and goals through racketeering, commission of crimes and corruption. That is why the upcoming local elections are a test for the three regimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which judging by everything they will not pass. The results of the local elections could mean a beginning of a new era in BiH, that is departure of politico-criminal and mafia structures from power.


Ljubljana/Sarajevo/Banja Luka/Mostar,12 November 2020      



[1] IFIMES - International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia,has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.