ISSN 2330-717X

Bosnian Parties Far Apart On Constitutional Reform

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By Valerie Hopkins

An ad hoc parliamentary commission set up to discuss constitutional reform in Bosnia has received myriad suggestions but shows no sign of reaching a consensus on the way ahead.

The committee, comprising representatives of the 13 major parties, is tasked with drawing up a set of recommendations that are to go to parliament for a vote by November 30.

Central to the constitutional reform debate is the implementation of the so-called Sejdic-Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in 2009.

The Strasbourg court ruled that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current constitutional set-up was discriminatory because it bars members of ethnic minorities from holding major state posts.

Under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-5 war in Bosnia, Bosnia’s three-member head of state, the state presidency, consists of one Croat, one Bosniak [Muslim] and one Serb.

The agreement also restricts membership to the upper house of the state parliament to representatives of the same three “constituent” peoples.

Two Bosnian citizens, Dervo Sejdic, a Roma, and Jakob Finci, a Jew, brought the suit against Bosnia in 2006, saying the rules discriminated against their human rights.

About half a million people in Bosnia qualify as “others,” the usual political term of reference for Bosnia’s 17 national minorities, the largest of which is the Roma.

Implementation of Sejdic-Finci is a key priority of the international community.

But many Bosnian politicians are reluctant to tamper with the rules. Disagreements over Sejdic-Finci are one reason why no state-level government has been formed 13 months after the last general election.

The dominant parties in the larger of Bosnia’ two autonomous entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Heregovina – the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and Party for Democratic Action, SDA – all want the three-member presidency to continue, albeit with minor adjustments.

Likewise the biggest party in Bosnia’s other entity, the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik’s Independent Social Democratic Party, but the key difference is they want to maintain the status quo as far as the electorate is concerned. Currently, only citizens of Republika Srpska can elect the Serb member of the presidency, while those in the Federation can vote for either the Croat or Bosnian member. The Federation’s main parties propose one electorate..

Only one party has proposed adding a representative of Bosnia’s “others” to create a four-member presidency.

But the People’s Party Work for Betterment is a minor voice in politics. In the 2010 elections it won only one seat in the lower house of the state parliament.

Another issue facing the committee is the future composition of the upper house of the state parliament, the House of Peoples, which comprises 15 delegates, five from each of the three constituent peoples.

Few parties have taken a clear stance on what should be done here.

Civil society organizations were asked to present their proposals for constitutional reform to the committee on Friday, setting a precedent for future invitations to NGOs, think tanks and civic associations to get involved in the work of parliament.

After hearing from the civic organizations, the committee will not meet again formally until five days before it is required to reach a decision.

One source close to the commission told Balkan Insight that the committee was unlikely to select just one set of suggestions.

Thus, parliament is unlikely to face an agreed set of recommendations to approve or vote down towards the end of the month.

Dervo Sejdic, one of the original plaintiffs in the Strasbourg court case, says that the international community should play a greater role in the deliberations by exerting “greater pressure”.

“It seems that the political will [for reform], not only concerning these questions but many others, is nonexistent,” he complained.

However, he lauded the committee’s decision to abandon its original plan to work only by consensus, and reach decisions with a two-thirds majority.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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