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General Elections In BiH: Can Voters Beat The Media, Religious Communities And Foreign Influence? – Analysis

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The ninth general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take place on 2 October 2022. At the elections, members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representatives in the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representatives in the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, President of the Republika Srpska, two vice-presidents of Republika Srpska, representatives in the Republika Srpska National Assembly (NSRS), and representative in the assemblies of 10 cantons in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be elected. 

At the start of the election campaign the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) published an analysis titled:  “2022 General Elections in BiH: Political changes are required, but are they possible?”, link https://www.ifimes.org/en/researches/2022-general-elections-in-bih-political-changes-are-required-but-are-they-possible/5077?  (16 Sept. 2022).

Citizens apathetic about the election campaign 

The 2022 general elections in BiH will take place at the time of the Russian invasion on Ukraine and the final stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to what specific epidemiological measures related to mass gatherings are still in place. 

Over the past 32 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been predominantly led by national (ethnic), nationalistic and very often chauvinist, pro-fascist, xenophobic parties and parties with anti-European tendencies. The phase of nationalism is not “a nice face”, because nationalists are willing to walk over others in order to elevate themselves. There is also no justification for nationalism as is a response to nationalism. Although majority of political parties advocate membership of BiH in the European Union, the real situation is completely different. Namely, such parties and their leaders are actually the ones who block the process of integration into the EU. Namely, they are aware of the fact that with BiH’s progress towards full-fledged membership in the EU they would eliminate themselves from the political scene, because they are not willing to embrace the European rules, values and conduct, whereas their conduct and actions so far are contrary to European standards. There is also a wave of mass emigration from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will culminate if the upcoming elections do not result in political changes. 

The general situation in the society has generated apathy among citizens and led to a general lack of interest in participation in the electoral process. This can lead to a poor turnout at the elections and thus enable the existing ruling political structures to remain in power. 

Vetting of HJPC members 

The inclusion of former BiH Chief Prosecutor Gordana Tadić[2] on the “black list” of the US Administration and the latest inclusion of state prosecutor Diana Kajmaković[3], who has been involved in the processing of cases related to organized crime and corruption, on the same list,opened additional questions about the situation in the judiciary. The evolution process did not lead to progress in the BiH judiciary. Therefore, the status of continuity will have to be replaced with reform-oriented and radical interventions that will provide for a “discontinuity reform”, that is establishment of a vetting procedure. The judiciary can be cured only through radical measures. The vetting procedures, as a discontinuity with respect to the existing processes, are a reform-focused response to the deep structural problems of the key sectors (judiciary, police, security-intelligence sector, public administration) without which a rule of law is inconceivable in transition democracies. Implementation of the vetting procedure means makinga cut, that is drawing a line with respect to the pre-reform period. It implies a radical, complex, rather elaborate and comprehensive reevaluation of all holders of judicial functions, independent of the hierarchy of the positions they hold. Newly established bodies would reevaluate all holders of judicial offices through verification of their qualifications, property and behind-the-scenes affiliations with organized crime and corruption. The vetting bodies have to be competent, politically independent, carefully elected and able to carry out multi-level and complex procedures. Such bodies should not include persons who until recently had been holders of judicial offices. 

On the other hand, the vetting-related regulations must ensure that the judges and prosecutors who do not wish to go through the reevaluation process can step down from their positions. This is “elasticity” is a part of the utilitarian-pragmatic character of vetting as a public policy aimed to liberate the judiciary from corrupt individuals at all costs, including the cost of uninvestigated departure of the corrupt. The reports developed by Reinhard Priebe[4] and other neutral and impartial observers and analysts stipulate that the rule of law in BiH is in such a condition that it requires groundbreaking reforms of the judiciary. The reports also stipulate that the citizens of BiH and the international community are dissatisfied with the rule of law in BiH.  Implementation of the conclusions from a report authored by Branko Perić titled “BiH Judiciary: How politics destroyed independence[5]” could also contribute to the improvement of the judicial system in BiH.

Bearing in mind the fact that 14 requirements set by the EU need to be fulfilled for BiH to move closer to membership in the EU, adoption of a new Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), as one of the EU requirements, would open a number of issues related to the judiciary. 

Vetting of HJPC members should be incorporated in the new Law on the HJPC. It would be best if the international community would request that this is done through adoptions of amendments to the Law on the HJPC, which are being drafted (in relation to the issue of integrity). This must be done urgently because the connections between specific HJPC members and political leaders, as well as controversial businessmen against whom elaborate investigations are being conducted, have been exposed. The most important decision of the international community is the one related to the external oversight of the work of the HJPC. Various alternatives are on the table. The international community is considering which model would be the best. The HJPC has too much independence, which it has abused to the consternation of the international community. Furthermore, the international community is closely following the appointment of the BiH Chief Prosecutor, which is to take place at the next session of the HJPC. BiH has to decide on this issue. The international community is very clear about it. Only concrete and proven cooperation with them is relevant. 

Some influential countries advocate external monitoring. The judiciary is out of any control. In the current legislative framework, a higher court can perform controls of a lower court, just as a higher office of the prosecutor can control an office of the prosecutor at a lower level. Well, why does is not do that? If the judiciary is satisfied with itself, why would it then be interested in any reforms? Reforms can be conducted only with the assistance of the international community, BiH Parliamentary Assembly and parliaments at lower levels in BiH, in combination with public pressure, as well as participation of subject matter experts and the nongovernmental sector. 

Analysts believe that it is necessary to make seriously needed changes within the judicial sector, so that then a judicial system based on other foundations, values and standards could be established. In fact, only then could a comprehensive showdown with organized crime and corruption be initiated.

Senselessness of the concept of the so-called legitimate representation

There are still numerous problems in the election system. There is a significant imbalance in the number of voters for the House of Representatives of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, because the number of voters in electoral units varies from 270,000 to 570,000. In the case of the Parliament of the Federation of BiH the number of voters in electoral units varies from 65,000 to 255,000, while the number of voters in electoral units for the Republika Srpska National Assembly (NSRS) varies from 70,000 to 275,000. The number of voters in electoral units should be almost equal. Why do electoral units not go across the inter-entity boundary line? Why are they not multiethnic, but are predominantly monoethnic? 

It is also necessary to eliminate the asymmetry in the role and competences of the president and two vice presidents of the two entities? Why is there no second round of elections for the election of members of the BiH Presidency?  Namely, in case of a large number of candidates, it is possible that someone with only 20% of support of voters gets elected as a member of the BiH Presidency. The same applies to the local elections and election of city/municipal mayors, due to the fact that there is no second round of elections. It would be important to ensure that three persons from different ethnic communities get appointed to the three key positions in the entities. Specifically, the position of the president of the entity, entity prime minister and speaker of the entity parliament.  Just as the European Court for Human Rights had established in its judgements in the Sejdić-FinciPilavZornić and Pudarić cases, the election law in BiH is discriminatoryIf you are not a member of the so-called constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats), you cannot even be a candidate for the position of a member of the BiH Presidency. Furthermore, the House of Peoples does not take into account the parity in the representation of candidates who are not members of the so-called constituent peoples. It is also discriminatory that only Bosniaks and Croats from the Federation of BiH, and only Serbs from Republika Srpska can be elected to the BiH Presidency. The ethnic parity in the BiH Council of Ministers is unsustainable, because the number of ministerial positions won should be conditioned by the election results, not ethnic parity. The abuse of the principles of parity and proportionality depending on circumstances is evident. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, nationalist structures are the ones that particularly emphasize and insist on the issue of “constituent peoples” and their representation, thus wittingly ignoring the citizens. However, citizenship, not ethnic affiliation, is the link between citizens and the state. The issue of ethnic affiliation and proof of specific affiliation becomes inevitable as some individuals change their declared ethnic affiliation from one election cycle to another. 

Analysts believe that the concept of the so-called legitimate representation is senseless. The best example for that is Zdravko Marošević (HDZBiH), a Croat and Vareš Municipality Mayor, who was elected predominantly by the Bosniaks. The concept of the so-called legitimate representation is unsustainable because of the examples where people elect to responsible positions candidates whom they perceive to be better, independent of their identity, ethnic or religious affiliation. Someone’s choice cannot be disqualified on the basis of ethnic, religious or any other identification. 

The Republic of Croatia has interfered in the adoption, that is imposing, of the election law that would preserve the concept of the so-called legitimate representation and insist on the constituent character of peoples. However, immediately after the establishment of an independent and sovereign Republic of Croatia, Croatia deleted Serbs as a constituent people from its Constitution, which was one of the reasons for the start of war in Croatia. The Republic of Croatia wants High Representative Christian Schmidt to impose an election law, so-called Lex Čović, which would ensure that the election of the Croat member of the BiH Presidency and election of the delegates in the House of Peoples of the FBiH is always in line with the wishes of Dragan Čović(HDZBiH) and the HDZBiH. There is a perception that High Representative Christian Schmidt serves the interests of the Republic of Croatia and HDZBiH. 

Sarajevo Canton – a test for SDA 

In the Sarajevo Cantonin which only four of nine mayors are from the SDA and the city mayor is from the SDP, the elections will be a test for the SDA. Namely, the general elections in the Sarajevo Canton will be a showdown between the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), as an opposition party in the Sarajevo Canton, and the ruling so-called Troika, which consists of three political parties: Social Democratic Party /Socijaldemokratska partija/ (SDP), Our Party /Naša stranka/ (NS) and People and Justice /Narod i Pravda/ (NiP). Once again, the elections will be like a plebiscite FOR or AGAINST the SDA. In the Sarajevo Canton, the SDA will compete against its political surrogates, who only recently were senior officials and holders of highest positions in the SDA and now act as embittered opponents of the SDA. There is still no proposal of a solution that would give the city of Sarajevo larger competences and an organization appropriate for a capital of a state, according to which the city mayor and Sarajevo city council would be elected directly at elections, and not indirectly as has been the case so far. The results of the general elections, particularly in Sarajevo Canton, will inform further developments within the SDA. 

According to analysts, the policy led by the SDA in the Sarajevo Canton for almost last three decades has experienced a fiasco, because in the Sarajevo Canton “obstructions and/or blockades by the SNSD and HDZBiH” cannot be used as an excuse. The capital of Sarajevo, which is rich in water resources, often has restrictions in water supply in summer periods, because the losses in the water supply system amount to more than 70%.

Milorad Dodik as Milo Đukanović’s counterpart

Milorad Dodik (SNSD) is a counterpart (Siamese twin) to Milo Đukanović (DPS) President of Montenegro, who has been autocratically ruling the country for 33 years already. Dodik supports in a synchronized manner the existing crisis in Montenegro, which had been generated by Đukanović. On a number of occasions Đukanović has stated in his public appearances that Milorad Dodik was a “problem of BiH”, but at no point has he ever voiced any criticism on the account of Dodik, although he regularly criticizes the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS). The alliance and mutual business cooperation between Dodik and Đukanović date back to the war years in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), when both of them were engaged (and are still involved) in smuggling of high tariff goods, primarily cigarettes, oil and narcotics (drug trafficking). In fact, both of them got their nicknames in that period. Namely, Milorad Dodik was dubbed “Mile Ronhill” and Milo Đukanović “Mr. Philip Morris.” Milorad Dodik’s contribution to the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards NATO is indisputable, just as Milo Đukanović’s contribution to the integration of Montenegro into NATO is.  Both of them opted to support NATO integration for the purposes of their own political survival, not because of their personal beliefs. 

According to analysts, the crimes they committed resulted in damages not just to the entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH and Montenegro, but also countries in the region and even the European Union itself. They are mainly related to high tariff goods and international crime, which is within the purview of the BiH Office of the Prosecutor.  The named politicians, who are holders of public offices, are involved in international crime. This calls for a serious and intensive international investigation that should include Interpol, as well as security-intelligence and investigation agencies of the US. 

In the past several years IFIMES published analyses in which it warned of the illegal wiretapping operations. Milorad Dodik had procured the wiretapping equipment from the same state, specifically Israel, as Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE), then Macedonian Prime Minister, who illegally wiretapped more than 26,000 citizens of Macedonia, which led to an outbreak of mass protests and the “Colorful Revolution.” Therefore, it is important that in the interest of the public a criminal investigation is conducted to establish how many people are Dodik and Đukanović wiretapping, as well as whose tapping equipment is being used in Montenegro? Dodik and Đukanović have become a strong destabilizing factor in the Balkans and Europe, but also the most illustrative example of the “politicization of crime and criminalization of politics” in the region[6].

Can Bećirović and Trivić initiate new processes in BiH?

The European Union is not interested in the plethora of complex Balkan problems, which is why these issues have been delegated to “lower levels”. Numerous diplomats at the local Balkan level have been given carte blanche to act at their discretion. EU offices in the Western Balkans have become a “fertile soil” for crime and corruption, despite the fact that majority of EU personnel is seriously engaged on their work. The corrupt among European experts and diplomats engages with corrupt political elites of the Balkans region. A textbook example are the corrupt affairs in the European Union “Rule of Law Mission” (EULEX) on Kosovo (since 2008), which is the most expensive EU mission abroad. 

Analysts believe that political changes are required in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Victory of Jelena Trivić (PDP) as the Republika Srpska President would put her in a position to initiate and control processed in Republika Srpska and implement the economic program propose by Milan Radović (SDS), who offers economic recovery of Republika Srpska and is under brutal attacks by Dodik’s regime. Victory of Denis Bećirović (SDP) for the position of the Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency would initiate processes within the Federation of BiH. It would be a significant step forward and a beginning of quality and quantitative changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which should be followed by strong international support, because the current situation leads to self-destruction, isolation and hopelessness. 

Ensure peaceful transition of government 

If free, fair and transparent, the general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina will bring political changes. There are indications that Jelena Trivić (PDP) could win as the President of Republika Srpska, which is why attacks against her and attempts to discredit her have increased and intensified. It is to except that a new parliamentary majority will be established in the Republika Srpska National Assembly after the elections. The race for the position of the member of the BiH Presidency from Republika Srpska between Mirko Šarović(SDS) and Željka Cvijanović (SNSD) is uncertain.

In the Federation of BiH Denis has a lead over Bakir Izetbegović (SDA) in the race for the position of the Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency, while Željko Komšić (DF) has a lead over Borjana Krišto (HDZBiH) for the position of the Croat member of the BiH Presidency. Komšić is a proponent of the concept of a civic state, which truly ensures a future and non-discrimination of BiH citizens, regardless of their origin. In the Parliament of the Federation of BiH, the SDA will probably remain the strongest individual party. HDZBiH will remain a leading party, but it is rather unlikely that it will be able to ensure a control package in the House of Peoples of the Federation of BiH. A peculiarity in the Federation of BiH is that two opposition parties, the Alliance for a Better Future /Savez za bolju budućnost/ (SBB) and People and Justice (NiP), hold ministerial positions and even the position of a deputy prime minister, which brings into question their opposition and democratic capacity. Hence, in the Federation of BiH there are opposition parties that are a part of the ruling coalition in the government – SBB and NiP.

Analysts believe that Milorad Dodik’s regime has been in a kind of isolation since the last elections. Dodik can go to Serbia, Russia and Hungary and that is where the list ends. Dodik had to transfer his isolation/blockade to BiH institutions in order to try to remain in power. Dodik cannot remain in power and the only important thing is that the transition of government is conducted peacefully. Tensions in BiH can be resolved by sanctioning the individuals who generate them, otherwise a new wave of conflicts will be initiated. Milorad Dodik is more inclined to conflicts, as he will not voluntarily step down from power, because of the enormous privileges, illegal accumulation of wealth by him, his family members and the oligarchy around him. It is a paradox that Dodik often refers to institutions of Republika Srpska, while at the same time he has destroyed, that is derogated, all the institutions by positioning himself as the only existing institution. 

Can the Voters Beat the Media, Religious Communities and Foreign Influence?

According to analysts, in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the past few decades the political and religious structures have been trying to eradicate any idea of normality, normalization of relations and improvement of the situation in this Western Balkans country. In such a way they held their citizens that is voters and/or believers as a kind of hostages, whose purpose is to keep them in power through the phenomenon of the so-called “surplus people.” It is therefore necessary to redefine the role of Bosniakhood, Serbhood and Croathood in the new circumstances, and the roles and missions of the three leading religious communities in BiH (Islamic Community, Serb Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church). 

The general voter registry includes around 600,000 young people, which constitutes around 1/5 of the electorate. If the young people would massively turnout at the elections, they could decide the winner of the elections. It is very important that the young people take a key role and responsibility for their future, cast their ballots and in such a way contribute to the election of quality candidates who will be focused on the future, prosperity of the country and stopping the mass emigration from Bosnia and Herzegovina, instead of the nationalistic-criminal political structures that have been in power so far and that have desolated Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens for more than 30 years already. Major urban regional centers should be the axis of future development. Political changes are key to development of a young and fragile democracy in BiH. 

Analysts believe that the upcoming general elections in BiH will be the most important elections since the end of the war, because they can be a milestone for the future of BiH. Therefore it is important that the upcoming elections are free, transparent and fair. The elections will be a test for the three existing regimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The election campaign has confirmed that specific media outlets have a rather negative role, as well as that instead of dealing with their spiritual mission the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC), Roman Catholic Church (RKC) and Islamic Community (IZ) are primarily engaged in petty-politics and servicing of political parties, thus representing a symbiosis of politics and religion. The results of general elections can mean a beginning of a new era in BiH, that is departure of politico-criminal and mafia structures from power. The last days of the election campaign and a massive turnout should determine the election winner, provided there are no corrupt activities aimed at purchase of votes, which have been a characteristic of all the elections in BiH so far, including the upcoming elections. Some politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina should stop acting like vassals of the East or the West, that is foreign influence, develop socially responsible policies and promote a new political culture. With a pen in their hand and by casting their ballots the voters can beat a part of the unprofessional media, churches/religious community and negative foreign influence. Bosnia and Herzegovina factually has a feudal form of exercise of government and governmental practice, which have to be abolished in a way that will include development of strong democratic institutions of the state at all levels of the government, which will be in function of citizens and prosperity of the country. 

Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington, 29 September 2022                                                         


[1] IFIMES – The 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.

[2] Source: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, Treasury Targets Actors for Destabilizing Behavior Throughout the Western Balkans, link: https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0712

[3] Source: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, Treasury Targets Corrupt State Prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, link: https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0975

[4] Source: Reinhard Priebe “Expert report on Rule of Law Issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, link: http://europa.ba/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/ExpertReportonRuleofLawissuesinBosniaandHerzegovina.pdf 

[5] Source: Branko Perić: “BiH Judiciary: How politics destroyed independence”, link: https://www.ifimes.org/en/researches/bih-judiciary-how-politics-destroyed-independence/5035

[6] Source– Analysis – Bosnia and Herzegovina –  2020 Montenegro: Dodik and Đukanović are a destabilizing factor in the Balkans and Europe?, link: https://www.ifimes.org/en/researches/2020-bosnia-and-herzegovina-montenegro-dodik-and-dukanovic-are-destabilizing-factors-in-balkans-and-europe/4586?page=16 (30 May 2020).

IFIMES

IFIMES – International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN since 2018. IFIMES is also the publisher of the biannual international scientific journal European Perspectives. IFIMES gathers and selects various information and sources on key conflict areas in the world. The Institute analyses mutual relations among parties with an aim to promote the importance of reconciliation, early prevention/preventive diplomacy and disarmament/ confidence building measures in the regional or global conflict resolution of the existing conflicts and the role of preventive actions against new global disputes.

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