Bosnia and Herzegovina
October 7, 2018
Result: Šefik Džaferović of the Party of Democratic Action was elected as the Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency, Željko Komšić of the Democratic Front as the Croat member of the Presidency, and Milorad Dodik as the Serb member. There was controversy over the election of Komšić, the Croat member, as a non-nationalist candidate of the Democratic Front who won against the nationalist Dragan Čović of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the help of Bosniak voters. Komšić came in first place almost exclusively in municipalities without a relative Croat majority. The result provoked protests by Croats who accused Bosniaks of out-voting and called for the creation of their own electoral constituency.
- One state comprising two entities: Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), and Republika Sprska (RS), each with its own ethnic composition, and institutional setup; the federal executive is governed by a tripartite, rotating presidency.
- Elections cover the federal and entity levels: Parliamentary Assembly (BiH’s bicameral legislative body, 4-year term, proportional vote for lower house), the three presidents at the federal level (4-year term, rotating every 8 months, majority vote), Republika Sprska’s president, the entities’ parliaments, and 11 other local assemblies.
- The tripartite Presidency selects the council of ministers, which is in charge of foreign and military affairs, and determines the budget of state-level institutions.
- The House of Representatives (lower house) approves the council of ministers and passes legislation.
- Current governmental makeup:
- Tripartite presidency: Bakir Izetbegovic (SDA, Bosniaks), Mladen Ivanic (PDP, Serbs), Dragan Covic (HDZ BiH, Croats)
- House of Representatives: SDA holds the chair of the consensus-based body.
53 parties, 36 coalitions and 34 independent candidates have been declared eligible to run across the country. The main ones are:
Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH)
- Party of Democratic Action (SDA) : center-right; Bosniak nationalism; oldest and traditionally most powerful party; aims to retain the Bosniak seat on the tripartite presidency (party leader Bakir Izetbegovic has held it since 2010).
- Alliance for a Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBB BiH) : center-right; principally Bosniak party; positions itself as main rival to SDA.
- Democratic Front of Bosnia and Herzegovina (DF) : center-left; multi-ethnic; pro-EU; provided Croat president during 2006-2014 but enjoys mainly Bosniak support.
- Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) : Croatian nationalism; conservative; center-right; pro-EU; aims to keep Croat presidential seat of Dragan Covic.
- Social Democratic Party (SDP) : center-left; multi-ethnic support but has become increasingly focused on Bosniak nationalism.
Republika Sprska (RS)
- Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) : Serbian nationalism; largest Serbian party; seeks independence from the Federation; strongly opposed to any strengthening of BiH's central institutions; led by Milorad Dodik (RS president), who is running for the country’s tripartite Presidency.
- Serb Democratic Party (SDS) : far-right; Serbian nationalism; main opposition Bosnian Serb party; coalition with smaller Alliance for Victory party; sanctioned by the United States for failing to arrest and turn over war crimes suspects.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- The 1995 Dayton Agreement, a U.S.-brokered agreement, sought to end the Bosnia conflict but continues to serve as the country’s constitution. Bosnian officials look to the U.S. to help solve the constitutional crisis and help counter Russian influence (principally through RS);
- U.S. aid to BiH from 2001 to 2017 totals close to $1bn; the U.S. focuses on defense reform as a prerequisite for greater integration into NATO;
- State Department officials meet regularly with the leaders of key political parties to encourage consensus among the three communities and support rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives;
- The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Mr. Dodik (SNSD) due to his effort to obstruct the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement after he sought a referendum to declare a national holiday in RS (January 9); Dodik has accused the U.S. Embassy of meddling in the country’s elections.
- The combination of separatist forces, dire economic conditions, and outside influence from neighbors and Russia, creates instability that could spread to the rest of the Western Balkans at a time when Macedonia attempts to pass a constitutional amendment , and Serbia and Kosovo are negotiating potential territorial adjustments.
Key Issues to Watch
- An agreement on how the seats of the House of Peoples (upper house) should be distributed has yet to be reached. Without a fully-constituted House of Peoples, it will be impossible to form either the FBiH government or the state-level House of Peoples, and the FBiH as well as the federal level would be unable to adopt legislation, including a national budget.
- The Bosnian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled in numerous cases that the country’s current constitutional provisions governing elections to the country’s state-level presidency are discriminatory. Inconclusive negotiations over new electoral laws are tangled with lasting ethnic tensions.
- The constitutional situation in BiH has been politically untenable for several years, leading to stagnation and instability; a lack of agreement on the election law will likely lead to a non-functional government, further undermining trust in institutions and rule of law, and destabilizing the country.
- BiH suffers from high youth unemployment (54%), corruption, crumbling public infrastructure and an increasing brain drain due to these conditions; voter apathy is a serious issue.
- There is a considerable risk for election manipulation and fraud; serious irregularities with the country’s election rolls have already been reported, including organized identify theft. There are reports that Croatian authorities may be coordinating with Bosnian Croats to register fictitious absentee voters in order to boost Croat parties such as the HDZ BiH.
- Russia has stepped up efforts to support Serbian separatists in the Republika Srpska through the Orthodox church and police cooperation; Milorad Dodik met with Vladimir Putin in early October 2018, and there are mounting concerns that he may further his calls for independence.