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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Where is the Civil Society Voice?

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October 7, 2010
Elmina Kulasic
By Elmina Kulasic

The journey from Sarajevo to Budapest was longer than intended after the October 3rd general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The mood of the BiH passengers reflected more or less the mood of the country – is BiH going to make political progress? The last four years have been one of the hardest in terms of political stability and progress; therefore, it is not surprising that BiH citizens are expecting more this time around and they should. However, the results are not an indication of future political progress or stalemate. BiH citizens will have to wait until the new government is formed to find out what coalitions have been established between the different political parties. It is not until after the formation of that government that the true election results will be reflected upon and assessed by BiH citizens. A jump to concrete conclusions at this point is a premature hypothetical scenario.

An unprecedented number of articles have been focusing on the election of the tripartite presidency of BiH assessing the probability of their moderate, constructive or possible destructive roles. However, inadequate attention has been given to the political climate that might be created within the next two months. We might be surprised by the unexpected coalitions that will be formed. A number of commentators in BiH have pointed at the pre-election coalition between the Social Democratic Party of BiH (SDP) and the Alliance for Better Future in BiH (SBB), but additional coalitions have not been discussed. Specifically speaking, the coalitions have to be taken into account as they will determine BiH politics for the next four years in a period when the quest for divisive ethnic rhetoric is a powerful impulse among some politicians.

The importance of coalition building is the result of the electoral system created by the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the 1992-95 war in BiH. The political structure does us no justice when it comes to explaining the complexity of the electoral system. Nonetheless, it is imperative to emphasize that more than 55% of BiH citizens have voted for 8242 verified candidates out of a total of 63 political subjects. To make the numbers less arithmetic, BiH elections had 39 registered political parties, 11 coalitions and 13 independent candidates. People voted for the BiH tripartite presidency, a total of 42 members for the BiH Parliament (28 from the Federation of BiH and 14 from Republika Srpska), 98 for the Parliament of the Federation and for 83 delegates from the Republika Srpska National Assembly. In addition, BiH citizens voted for 289 representatives from ten different Cantons. The numbers adequately capture the full context of the elections and the complexity of plausible results. Within this framework, it is evident that some of the promises that the politicians have promised will be hard to fulfill, especially when there tends to be no political will to fulfill them in the first place. Therefore, it is important to reiterate that the role of the international community must be reaffirmed in regards to European Union (EU) conditionality and integration. The EU must recognize that BiH is the key for Balkan stability and Europe as a whole. If the EU and the international community, especially the U.S., approaches BiH with firm and concrete recommendations for crucial reforms needed for EU integration, it will enable BiH to move forward. It is imperative to recognize that BiH will remain in a vacuum until its politicians are held responsible for their actions, but how do we hold them responsible? In a polarized political climate such as the one in BiH, we have to be careful how we define “elected officials.” BiH citizens have voted, but we have to remember that they voted in three as everything in BiH revolves around the magic number three. We also have to understand that when the climax of frustration has been reached, it seems as if people vote for change without realizing that the majority of names on the ballots are the same!

The 2010 elections in BiH might have been a turning point, as some have stated; however, the voice for change must come from the civil society and the not-for-profit sector. The people of BiH have been marginalized and blamed for too long for electing their representatives without taking into consideration the Dayton Peace Accords voting mechanism. It is time that the international community engages BiH citizens, rather than just the “elected” officials – active democracy is the answer!

In order to provide a forum where BiH citizens can become more active, the Dayton Peace Accords must be reformed. The crucial reforms must enable BiH citizens to elect representatives whose political platform is a stable and economically prosperous BiH in the EU. It must demand that the BiH Constitution conform to and meet the European standards, specifically as ruled in the European Court of Human Rights case Sejdic and Finci vs. BiH. The international community, primarily the EU, must insist that its own standards are implemented in BiH; otherwise, the current structure created by the Dayton Peace Accords will hinter any significant progress in BiH.

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