Instead of COVID-19, these days people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been discussing about local elections (that took place on November 15). We can see many headlines claiming that ruling parties on the state level have lost their key strongholds and that it could be an initial step to many positive changes we could expect to experience after the next general elections (2022).
2 entities, 143 local self-government units (79 in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and 64 in the Republic of Srpska).
The three ruling parties are:
SDA (dominantly representing Bosniaks, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina),
SNSD (dominantly representing Serbs, the Republic of Srpska)
HDZ (dominantly representing Croats, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Regarding the SDA the biggest change has happened in the capital, Sarajevo. This party was defeated in three out of four municipalities by a “Quartet” coalition made up of four parties (SDP-Social Democratic Party, Naša Stranka-Our Party, Narod i Pravda- People and Justice, NBL-Independent Bosnian List). It is interesting to mention that citizens of Sarajevo don’t elect directly the mayor of the City of Sarajevo. The 4 municipal councils elect the Sarajevo City Council which elects the Mayor (this usually happens several months later).
Many people (even in our country) don’t know the difference between Sarajevo Canton and City of Sarajevo. City of Sarajevo consists of four municipalities. The Sarajevo Canton consists of nine municipalities (the four ”City of Sarajevo” municipalities plus five neighbouring municipalities). The SDA has lost a lot of its power in this canton. Regarding this area, the biggest surprise for the SDA is the loss of the Ilidža Municipality (64 % for the “Quartet” candidate).
The HDZ has lost only in Tomislavgrad. Everywhere else its power has remained (almost) at the same level.
Can we see any significant change in the Republic of Srpska? Not really. The SNSD has lost the Mayor of the main city (Banja Luka – this city is the administrative centre of this entity) but this party will still hold the majority on the Banja Luka City Council. The SDS (Serbian Democratic Party), the main opposition party, is even weaker than it was four years ago! It should be emphasized that in this entity there are 64 local self-government units and the SNSD (with its partners) will have its mayor in 42.
In this entity for the first time citizens voted for the Mayor of the City of East Sarajevo (in the past the procedure was very similar to the current election procedure in the City of Sarajevo). The City of East Sarajevo consists of six municipalities and the SNSD won in the three of them (the same situation like 4 years ago). But also, the SNSD candidate will be the first directly elected ”City Mayor”. The current result (96 % of processed polling stations) is 53 % in favor of the SNSD candidate.
Where is Mostar?
Mostar is ethnically divided (Croats-Bosniaks) city in the southern part of the country (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
We have not had local elections in Mostar since 2008 because of the authorities’ failure to enforce a 2010 ruling by Bosnia’s Constitutional Court that said the city’s power-sharing structure was unconstitutional and needed reform (the main actors of the conflict: the SDA and the HDZ). The first elections after 12 years will be held on December 20, 2020.
Why do we struggle in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Why can’t citizens see any real positive changes even 25 years after the Dayton Agreement? It is sad that some of us think that immediately after the war it was better because at that time people had hope…. but it seems that over the course of a twenty-five year hope has been disappeared.
The BiH story should be analyzed from the perspective of the whole region. Bosnia and Herzegovina has many unique characteristics but discussing about this country without taking into account a broader perspective is not recommendable. This region is somehow still trapped in the past. The countries of this region were not prepared to face the end of the Cold War and the subsequent breakdown of the Eastern Bloc. And even today we feel all the negative repercussions of the previous (mostly war related) processes. Apart from COVID-19, Bosnia and Herzegovina is mostly struggling with its ”old” issues.
The main topics in the public discourse are almost the same. They can be sublimated into: discussion of competencies, dealing with the legacy of radical violence, dissonant tones between political actors regarding the creation of public policies (we could find many examples: Strategic Framework of Public Administration Reform, Strategic plan for rural development- it took so many years and even now we have troubles with establishing of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Rural Development structures and this is an obvious example of how this country misses many opportunities). Of course, we still have many problems related to reaching consensus on what happened in the past (war crimes). This painful legacy is probably our heaviest burden. This was highlighted by Mr. Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who visited our country several days ago. Mr Borrell claims that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU progress also needs to be underpinned by genuine reconciliation.
It is difficult to see a clear vision where this country would like to be. There is too much focus on matters not related to improvement of living standards which should be the main role of politicians. It could be said that in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have an atmosphere of perpetual crisis. Besides above-mentioned issues, the three main relevant issues are: the negative impact of COVID-19 (the economy had been growing by 3% for the last five years but since spring we have been dealing with a sharp decline in many sectors and it is difficult to anticipate what will happen), migrant crisis and youth leaving.
The EU should continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina because it is in the interest of the EU to maintain political stability on its south eastern flank and the citizens of the EU and BiH deserve the opportunities that arise from such stability. Continued support and the obvious demonstration of such support is very important especially in the light of the events related to the EU enlargement policy from the last year that have provoked a wave of concern through the Balkans. Still, we can say that public support for European Integration is relatively high in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We can identify many issues but the most critical issues regarding the EU perspective are:
1) Coordination of various levels (state, entities, cantons etc.) regarding EU matters
2) The fight against corruption and organised crime because this issue prevents the country from moving forward and risks bleeding into the EU.
3) Public Administration Reform in order to ensure a professional civil service, increase the level of transparency and build a customer (citizen) – oriented public administration in accordance with SIGMA standards.
These issues should be prioritized in order to create an adequate framework to finally recover this country and provide decent work opportunities, create a healthy political atmosphere and move this country from the last position on many ranking lists.
Regarding elections we shouldn’t insist on a winners and losers matrix. We should hope that the main political actors will rethink their actions and ambitions. This is the only way to revitalize this society and the only way to believe that there will be times when our citizens (not political actors exclusively) will be able to thrive once more.
Author: Vlado Planinčić, YPA, Facilitator/Project Manager, Bosnia and Herzegovina