31 October 2018

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) general elections and its effects over future evolutions

Stelian Teodorescu

After years of instability and political crisis and after BIH’s Ministries Council made some important steps towards European integration, including by creating answers to European Commission’s survey, the 8th ballot tour of this country’s general elections took place, after the local ones, developed in October 2016, which led to redistributing the political power at a local level.

Image source: Mediafax

In all this time, the Ministries Council was the promoter of some positive political processes regarding Euro-Atlantic integration, becoming more and more visible the efforts made to consolidate the Bosnian state at a central level and the development of some progresses to get closer to EU and NATO. It became obvious that accomplishing this extremely important objective needs a larger social consensus and a consolidated partnership with citizens, with the civil society. Across this complex process, the consensus gains a vital importance, especially after European Commission’s new strategy regarding EU’s extension gave BiH new hopes to soon get the candidate statute, to start the negotiations with EU and to continue the integration process.

The extremely complex legislative framework and ethnical distribution, decisive influence factors for BiH’s electoral process

The general elections which were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), on 07 October 2018, were truly competitive, for this electoral process being able to vote 3.352.933 registered voters, including also the 77.814 abroad ones.  In the same context, around 50.000 national and international observers supervised the development of this vote in the 8 electoral units- three in Republic of Srpska (RS, with 49% of the territory) and five across Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation (FBiH, with 51% from the territory). Among Dayton’s Treaty provisions it is also established the existence of Brcko District, a district with autonomous statute and supposedly neuter, from BiH’s North, which, according to the last census results, it has a population formed of 42,3% Muslim Bosnian ethnics, 34,6% Serbian ethnics and 20,7 Croatians ethnics.

A very important thing to remark, considering the general elections from October 2018, is the ethnical distribution of the entire Bosnian state, an element which decisively contributed at the expected, or not, results of this electoral ballot and, implicitly, which will contribute at BiH’s future elections. Hence, according to 2013’s census results, RS’s population is composed of 81,5% Serbian ethnics, 13,9% Muslim Bosnian ethnics and 2,4% Croatians ethnics. On its turn, FBiH’s population is composed of 70,4 % Muslim Bosnian ethnics, 22,4 % Croatians ethnics and 2,5 Serbian Ethnics. At these three structural groups, we add 17 more ethnical minorities, including gypsies and Jewish, which are 2,7% from entire country’s population. 

In such a context, the already existing conception of Bosnian state’s distribution upon ethnical lines continues to get consolidated at a very high level, all because the regulation legislative framework of the electoral process, which is an extremely complex one, created in more than two decades. Even if all this legislative framework is detailed and generally favorable to develop some democratic elections, there are still some deficiencies due to some unclarities regarding the hierarchical relation between the legislative framework from the central level and the constitutions of both entities. In these circumstances, we must underline that, until now, BiH’s Parliament did not make it to revise the electoral law, even if some parts of his law were invalidated by the Constitutional Court, two years ago.

Despite these shortcomings, the voters had the possibility to choose from a large variety of candidates. Also a positive signal could be that the politicians who were competing across the electoral process had the opportunity to develop a free campaign, to generally benefit of respecting the freedom to express themselves, to move and associate, also to be remarked the diversity of methods to develop the electoral campaign, including using online tools.

All of these aside, the candidate have been concentrated more on ad personam attacks and less on focusing and debating the promoted political programs across the electoral campaign. Here were especially remarked those elements related to ethnical lines distribution, the attention being on negative and vulgarized rhetoric, but also on preferential treatments coming from the local authorities for the competing candidates, all being totally opposed to international standards in organizing and developing an electoral campaign.

Mass-media’s significative dependency on political interests, probably, in the majority of ethnical aspects cases, but also on businesses domain ones raised, many times, some biased approaches across the electoral process, pressure and unjustified influence cases over the voters not being balanced and efficient approached.

As consequence, the electoral ballot from 07 October 2018 war marked also by fraud and manipulation accusations, an eloquent example for that end being the cases which refer to the apparition on electoral the lists of some death individuals, as well as to the disharmony between the number of valid IDs and the number of registered voters. These aspects were especially remarked because, lately, there was an increasing tendency of concerns about enrolled dates’ accuracy in Central Voters Register (CVR), and the Central Electoral Commission used the measures which were to improve existent dates’ accuracy in CVR and to prevent the development of some possible frauds, especially in transmitting votes by mail cases.

The extraordinary complexity of this country’s political system, which comes especially from this distribution on ethnical criteria, forced the voters to choose a total of 5 presidents and 14 prime-ministers, members of the two parliamentary chambers at central level, but also of those at entities level. Furthermore, with their vote, the voters authorized elections’ winning political formats to denominate the candidates of governments’ creation at central level, but also at RS and FBiH’s level.

This is the political system of a state wherein one of five people is jobless and almost half from the young people in this country cannot find a job, the medium income is 400 euros per month, many of the citizens do not have a clear future ahead, and almost 200.000 people left the country to work abroad in the past 5 years (almost 5% from BiH’s population).

Even if BiH’s general elections’ results are creating some serious expensive effects and even if EU announced, three years ago, a reform plan, Bosnian state’s political situation remains firmly based on leaders’ election and representativity’s development at a central level, but also at entities’ level, exclusively on ethnical criteria, also significantly contributing at getting some reduced progresses in reform’s process of such a complex system.


Considerations regarding BiH’s general elections results and its possible effects

The general presidential and parliamentary elections developed in BiH, on 07.10.2018, confirmed, on long term, the distribution on ethnical criteria between the three main ethnical groups, but also inside of it. In these circumstances, continues to exist the domination of key-parties of the three main ethnical groups, Serbian Bosnians, Muslims and Croatians: Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Not least, we can say we are still waiting for state’s major reform and modernization, as the issues and concerns remained the same, considering that the nationalism is growing very fast, alike other areas of Europe.

It became notoriety that BiH’s governments are, generally, formed not upon ideologies, but more on main nationalists’ political formats interests. Considering that it is essential the existence of a majority of 50%+1, we expect a coalition between SDA and SNSD.

So, Milorad Dodik’s electoral victory for BiH’s tripartite presidency must be analyzed and seen in such a context, marked by the preexistent ethnical nationalism’s consolidation consequences. This political tendency is taking advantage on populist and extremist feelings’ development in Europe, by spreading and developing ultra-nationalist parties and movements, which saw as successful electoral strategy the attacks over “others”, especially of minorities’ and, lately, of migrants’ groups.

Winning a position across BiH’s presidency by Milorad Dodik, ex-RS’s president, defeating the ex-president Mladen Ivanic, is the proof that voters trusted and empowered a nationalist leader, who openly declared to be Russia’s ally and who threatened, many times, to divide RS of BiH, by reorganizing a referendum to that end. All of these aside, we can say that winning a position in BiH’s highest central institution, could merely reduce Dodik’s capabilities to start an eventual secession process of RS.

Undoubtedly, Milorad Dodik will be the main craftsman of an interesting dynamic of BiH’s future presidency, a dynamic which could became unstable considering the consolidated relations with Russia, this scenario becoming probable after the meeting with the ex-leader of RS, during the electoral campaign, with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi, and with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Banja Luka.  However, it is less probable for Dodik to provoke borders’ change and to afflict BiH’s territorial integrity, because ethnical tensions’ escalation and a serious destabilization of Western Balkans region will not be accepted by Moscow’s leaders, without Belgrade’s approval, committed, in its turn, in a closeness process to European institutions.

Considering that BiH negotiated for years the starting point of the accession process to EU, the victory of an anti-EU and anti-NATO nationalist candidate will surely be a supplementary obstacle for BiH’s accession process at those two organizations.

Consequently, we can say that we are dealing with a high uncertainty level about Bosnian state’s future evolutions, especially considering that it is still unclear what strategy would Milorad Dodik and Zeljka Cvijanovic, his close ally and RS’s new president, prepare to “adapt” to Serbians ethnics will from BiH, considering that not all the members of this community want RS’s succession.

Milorad Dodik winning a position across the tripartite presidency, as Serbian ethnics representative, with 53, 88% votes, was not a surprise, these results being already anticipated by the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, which are periodically analyzing the event from the mentioned areas.

Considering Serbian leader’s, Milorad Dodik, adopted and expressed position about stopping the mission an ending High Representative’s Office- part of Dayton’s Peace Treaty dedicated to protect country’s constitution- but also about his intention to develop his activity as BiH’s tripartite presidency member in another location from Serbian municipality, East Sarajevo (RS government announced an auction for building a wall of 2,5 meters height and 100 meters length around Dodik’s new presidential office from East Sarajevo), at an international level, will be created the idea that the new president would want to bar and eliminate central governmental institutions from BiH.

Winning a position across the tripartite presidency as representative of Muslim Bosnian ethnics by Sefik Dzaferovic, with 36, 61% of the votes, shows the continuity, but at the same time this representation version of the Muslim Bosnian community, at a central level, can be seen as a surprise. He will take this position from Bakir Izetbegovic, the actual leader of Party of Democratic Action (SDA), this political group getting really good results at a central level, but also at FBiH’s level, in districts with majoritarian Muslim Bosnian population.

Not least, we must underline that the coalition led by the nationalist Croatian party (HDZ), from BiH, won most of Croatians votes for FBiH’s parliament, but also for legislative institutions in districts populated majoritarian by Croatian Bosnians.  All of these aside, HDZ leader from BiH, Dragan Covic, who militated for the creation of a separated Croatian region in BiH, lost the elections for the position across the tripartite presidency, in the detriment of Zeljko Komsic. This last one defeated Covic with a perceptible difference, 52, 64% of the votes, taking advantage of a significative number of votes, paradoxically, from the Muslim Bosnians community, in mixed population areas. Probably, the main argument is that Komsic is seen as a moderated politician, a Croatian who wants multi-ethnical state and who had before two mandates across country’s tripartite presidency, between 2006-2014.

Still, it is important to remark that Croatia’s president and prime-minister criticized Zeljko Komsic’s election as representative of Croatians ethnics across BiH’s tripartite presidency, saying that this option is not the most appropriate one to represent neither the Bosnian Croatians, nor BiH in general.

Croatia’s leaders are regretting the other Croatian candidate for the presidential elections, Dragan Covic, seen as the true representative of BiH’s Croatians ethnics and, not least, the craftsman of some important steps made across the European process of the Bosnian state, with Croatia’s support.

We should also underscore that, after accepting his defeat, Dragan Covic said that in the absence of some clear rules for Superior Chamber’s creation of FBiH’s Parliament, as consequences of some different point of views about electoral law’s modification, choosing Zeljko Komsic could raise some “unseen crisis”. This statement may be a viable one, if we think about the fact the Croatians ethnics are minoritarian in FBiH and, in such circumstances, Croatian nationalists could take any opportunity which would favor their eventual autonomy demands and even serious demarcation of the area majoritarian inhabited by Croatian ethnics.

It is clear that, considering Bosnian state’s internal complexity, BiH needs a biggest involvement of international institutions, but also of other states in the region, including Croatia’s, in institution’s consolidation process and equality between constitutive nations.

It is important here to remark a paradox of the recent elections, Zeljko Komsic winning a place across the tripartite presidency with a bigger number of votes from the Muslim Bosnian community, than the number of votes from Croatians ethnics. The consequences of such an issue could be intensified by the fact the Croatian community’s representative from BiH, across the tripartite presidency, does not have Croatian citizenship and it is not seen as a “Croatian player”.

In such circumstances, it seems viable the scenario wherein, leaders from Zagreb and from BiH’s Croatians ethnics could significantly develop the relations with Milorad Dodik, especially considering that the objective of reducing the Muslim component domination seems to be Dodik’s and political Croatians groups’ from BiH common objective.

Consequently, if we will make the necessary connections and we will anticipatively make an analysis, HDZ’s leader from BiH, Dragan Covic, could approach a strategy to compensate his lost position across the tripartite presidency and could develop, for that end, contacts with Moscow to ask support for getting some bigger rights for BiH’s Croatians ethnics. Such a scenario is very probable to happen because, considering Russia’s interests in Western Balkans, the Russian leaders could not lose the opportunity to have the support of two allies, the already existent one, Milorad Dodik and a potential one, Dragan Covic, on BiH’s political scene.

The electoral process developed on 07 October 2018 can be characterized as a test for the three ethnical communities from BiH, marked by rivalry, a test whose objective could be the identification of their determination level to make some significant progresses across the Euro-Atlantic integration process. Unfortunately, the conclusion could be that BiH’s general elections showed the determination for renewing the confrontation commitments, without offering well-defined economic or political visions.

Concluding, BiH’s internal and external policy will continue to be dominated by the same two important power and influence poles, which are the leaders of Serbian community, who will probably gain on their side some leaders of Croatian community, but also by the leaders of Muslim Bosnians community. In the following period, these two poles, which will participate at adopting the most important decisions, will be based and will benefit on Russia and Turkey’s explicit and implicit support and on other states from Middle East, which have interests in the region. Despite the increasing concerns about a possible amplification of the tensions in Western Balkans, BiH will upkeep its state structure with two entities, but it will also show some major dysfunctionalities and will show resistance to EU and US’s attempts to promote pro-occidental reforms. 

1) BiH’s electoral process is regulated, firstly, at BiH’s central level through BiH’s Constitution, from 1995, Electoral Law, from 2001, the Law regarding political parties funding, from 2012 and Dayton’s Treaty, from 1995, and all the other things related to political parties and creating institutions at the level of the two entities are regulated by the adopted constitutions and laws, at the level of each entity per se.

2) Hence, it was prepared an analysis of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political situation, through an opinion poll in this country, considering the general elections from 07.10.2018, being also elaborated a complex analysis called “Bosnia and Herzegovina- general elections from 2018: the favorites are actually the people, than the political parties”. The poll was made between 8-18 April 2018, on BiH’s territory (FBiH and RS), using the depth interview methods. The standard deviation was +/-3%.