Bosnia Herzegovina

Last update: 1 month ago

Since the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in 1995, ethno-nationalistic parties have dominated the political scene in Bosnia Herzegovina. The local elections held in 2016 and the general elections of 2018 were a confirmation of these tendencies. The outcomes of these elections showed no real shift, especially as there is a tendency to vote along ethnic lines and for nationalistic parties.. Nonetheless, local elections in 2020 showed promising signs of breaking this trend, with non-nationalist parties achieving good results, for instance in Sarajevo. For the general elections in 2022, this new tendency was eagerly hoped to continue. Although non-nationalists achieved some good results, voting along ethnic lines remains a factor in the Bosnian political system that seems to hinder togetherness and stability. Ethnic Serbs and Croats in Bosnia Herzegovina continue to work towards further federalisation of the country. The third and largest ethnic group, the Bosniaks, heavily oppose this initiative. With regards to EU integration, Bosnia-Herzegovina is lagging behind other countries in the Western Balkans, because it is unable to implement the requested reforms. Under the current constitution, established in the DPA, the decision-making process follows ethnic lines. This causes a complex system of national and entity-level decision-making, making it very hard to find the consensus needed to work on further EU integration. Citizens went to vote in 2022 for the general elections to decide whether their country will move towards European Union membership and NATO integration or whether the society will continue to live along the lines of ethnic fragmentation. On 12 October 2022, the European Commission announced that it will recommend granting Bosnia Herzegovina candidate status. In its recommendation, the European Commission formulated eight points on which the Bosnian political system should take steps. 

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Map of Bosnia Herzegovina

Short facts

Population:
3,263,459 (World Bank 2021)
Governmental Type:
Parliamentary republic
Last Elections:
2022 (general elections)
Next Elections:
2024 (municipal elections)
Sister Parties:
Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SDP BiH)
Image of Denis Bećirović

Denis Bećirović

President

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Image of Fadil Novalić  (Source: https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/novalic-sljedeci-mjesec-sve-penzije-ce-biti-povecane-za-2-5-do-3-5-posto-osim-onih-najvecih/180409104)

Fadil Novalić

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

The Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) signed in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), determined the Bosnian constitution. As a result, the political system is complex and inefficient. The country is composed of two political entities, Republika Srpska (49 percent of the territory) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (51 percent of the territory). The Federation is divided into ten cantonal units. A 2013 census revealed that with approximately 50%, the Bosniaks make up the largest ethnic group. Serbs make up about 31% of the country’s population, with the Croats around 15%. The country’s institutions, which are there to support the stability of the country, are constructed taking into consideration these ethnic divides.

As such, BiH is a highly decentralised state with a mixture of a parliamentary and presidential political system. Each political unit has its own governing body, accumulating  700 elected state officials and more than 140 ministers. The consequence is that the state system measures approximately 60% of the state budget. The EU High Representative, German diplomat Christian Schmidt, is working with the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, reports to the UN on the situation in the country, and is the highest authority within BiH. In the following, the Federation of BiH will be referred to as FBiH and the Republic Srpska will be referred to as RS.

Political division

Due to the political division within the country, the recent formation of the state-level government was not just another distribution of seats among the political elite. The officials in Republika Srpska continue to undermine the power of state institutions, Bosnian Croats continue to work towards a third Croatian entity and Bosniaks remain divided internally. Adding to this the sense that the EU — the Office of High Representative (OHR) still has the supreme governing authority — and the international community has no real strategy for BiH, it is questionable if important steps forwards will be taken in the near future.

Furthermore, Dodik’s ruling Serb SNSD is supporting the ruling Croatian HDZ in their demand for a Croatian entity, while the ruling Bosniak SDA sees this dynamic as proof that Croats and Serbs want to divide BiH, something they say will, and cannot, happen peacefully. It is this dynamic that puts all issues in an ethnic jacket from which the ethnic parties profit. Even if citizens know the party of their choice is corrupt and will bring no change to their socioeconomic position, they tend to vote because of the ethnic profile of the party.

The presumption by the international community that the continuous reduction of international supervision and the magnetic attraction of EU integration would convince Bosnia’s political leaders to pursue the rigorous reforms necessary for EU accession has proven to be illusory. If anything, the opposite has been the case. Negotiations to amend the existing constitution, established by Dayton, to strengthen state institutions and transform the country into a non-ethnic parliamentary democracy, have so far failed to make much progress.

Presence of the international community

The presence of the international community is coordinated through the Office of High Representative for BiH (OHR) which is the state's ultimate authority, responsible for overseeing the implementation of civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The international community’s High Representative (HR) in BiH, German diplomat Christian Schmidt, assists the authorities of the country to implement the five objectives and two conditions set out by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC). The PIC was established during the Dayton Accords.

The Steering Board of the Council provides the HR with political guidance. However, it has proven to be difficult to reach a consensus on main issues among members of the PIC Steering board which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Presidency of the European Union, the European Commission and the

Organisation of the Islamic Conference represented by Turkey. Therefore the position of the HR on certain issues is vague. The HR’s office must stay in place until the set goals have been achieved and ensure implementation of the 1995 Dayton Accords, which include “peaceful coexistence within one single state of different ethnic communities”. When these goals are achieved, the HR will be replaced by an EU Special Representative for BiH. The EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, headed by Peter Sorensen, has increasingly taken up several tasks and is the second-largest delegation in the world.

The road to EU-membership

BiH is lagging behind in the EU integration process compared to its neighbours. The country did not succeed in implementing reforms that would move the country further towards EU accession and the political elite (mostly in RS) has an interest in containing the status quo. The constitution that is based on ethnic division and the unwillingness of the political elite to change it has proved to be a major obstacle. As a consequence, the EU’s strategy regarding the country changed from reform-related conditionality to socioeconomic challenges it faced.

In February 2016 the country submitted its application to join the EU. This seemingly important international step forward is contradicted by the divisions on the ground and war-time rhetoric by political leaders. According to international observers, the lack of progress mainly has to do with the role of the EU, which "neglected its role in promoting democracy among aspiring member states", a Freedom House report of February 2017 said. Instead of addressing the problems with the Bosnian political elite, the EU has chosen to endorse the elite. In the past years, the Bosnian political elite has only looked to the international actors’ position, and never felt the need to be represented and serve its citizens. Moreover, a system of undermining (EU) institutions was introduced, particularly in the RS led by Dodik. The SNSD's Eurosceptic stance has been detrimental to BiH's European integration. The party also established ties with Russia during the invasion of Ukraine, creating further divisions. Moreover, its harsh ethnonationalist stance further increases ethnic tensions in BiH.

On 12 October 2022, the European Commission announced that it will recommend granting BiH a candidate status. It is a good step towards Bosnian EU accession. The recommendation does not mean that the Balkan country will actually be granted candidate status. In principle, it does not change the country’s current status in the European political landscape. The recommendation mainly has to do with a changed European orientation on developments and progress in Bosnia. Here the emphasis is mainly on giving a recommendation with conditions that determine when Bosnia and Herzegovina can become a candidate country, rather than on meeting the conditions to get a recommendation. On 28 November 2022, the EU’s enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi stated that BiH will be granted the EU candidate state in December 2022 if the conditions laid out by the European Commission were met. The 14 key priorities identified by the European Commission in 2019 have not been adequately addressed since then. On the contrary, further fragmentation of Bosnian society based on ethnic differences seems to be taking place in recent years. Therefore, the European Commission has now formulated in the recommendation eight points on which the Bosnian political system should take steps.

Female representation and women’s rights

The authorities in BiH seem to have little interest in addressing the human rights problems, which the country has been struggling with for many years now. During the Bosnian War and Bosnian genocide, women suffered from mass sexual violence. Estimates of rape range from 12,000 to 50,000. In 2020 the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) still concluded that the country had failed to conduct adequate investigations into conflict-related sexual violence and compensations were often dissatifactionary. There have been improvements since the War though, with the 2003 adopted Gender Equality Law. In theory, the constitution ensures equality between men and women now.

In practice, society remains much committed to traditional gender roles. To illustrate, although the constitution states that 30% of political candidates need to be female, this number was less than 20% during the local elections of 2020. On a national and regional level, about 26% of those elected are female. However, there has been a trend towards more women in local politics in recent years, supported by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the OSCE. They are paving the way for more gender equality. Just like in many of the world’s countries, the COVID-19 pandemic and following government restrictions led to an increase in domestic gender-based violence.

LGBTI rights

LGBTI people still need to deal with discrimination and face challenges that non-LGBTI people do not. However, especially in recent years, BiH has seen quite some improvements when it comes to LGBTI rights. As it is one of the guarantees for becoming a full EU member, in 2016 the government adopted a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, making it illegal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. Since 1996 homosexuality has been legal, with BiH’s different entities following in the years afterward, but there is still no legal recognition of same-sex couples on a national level. The government has been considering adopting this since 2018 though and might follow the example of neighbouring Montenegro.

Religion continues to play an important role in Bosnian society, which has negative implications on the attitudes toward the LGBTI community. LGBTI events often end up in violence, with the 2008 Queer Sarajevo Festival being the most notable example. A 2017 poll by Pew Research showed that 13% would support same-sex marriage, with 84% opposing it. The trend has been positive though. The second Sarajevo Pride march took place in August 2020, without any major incidents. LGBTI activists saw an increase in online threats during the march through. Like in many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic marked a year that saw an increase in violence against LGBTI people.


POLITICAL SYSTEM

Bosnia and Herzegovina (state-level)

The parliament consists of two houses. The House of Peoples has 15 delegates: five for each ethnic group. The Serb representatives are appointed by the parliament of the RS and Bosniaks and Croats are employed by the parliament of the F BiH. The House of Representatives has 42 members. Two-thirds are elected from the F BiH and one-third from the RS by regular elections for a four-year mandate. Their role is to adopt the state budget, to elect the government on the proposal of the presidency, and to adopt laws. The government is presided over by a prime minister with the official title of Chairman of the Council of Ministers. As both entities also have a prime minister, it is important to understand the difference and on which level these Prime Ministers operate.

The Presidency

BiH has a presidential system in which the position is shared among three members who represent the main ethnic groups of the country (Bosniak, Serb and Croat). The members of the presidency are elected by direct election for a four-year mandate. The Serb member of the presidency is elected from the RS and the Croat and Bosniak members are elected from the FBiH. They rotate every eight months on ethnic principles.

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (entity)

Similar to the state level, entity F BiH has a two-house parliament. The House of Peoples has 58 delegates elected from ten cantonal assemblies: 17 Bosniaks, 17 Croats, 17 Serbs, and 7 other nationalities. Its role is to protect the ethnic interests of the represented ethnic groups. The House of Representatives has 98 members elected directly from election districts on open lists. The FBiH’s leader is the Prime Minister. However, in a surprise move following the 2022 general elections, Schmidt introduced changes to the electoral law in FBiH. The number of delegates in the House of Peoples will be upped to 80. Accordingly, it will comprise 23 Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats along with 11 Others. The increase allows ‘Others” to select a representative from each canton, which was not the case before. Hence, Bosniaks decide which Bosniak delegates from a particular canton go to the People's House, Serbs elect Serbs and Croats elect Croats, and the Others do the same. Previously, all the assemblies in each canton decided which ethnic representatives would go to the People's House, now it is only their ethnic caucus that approves the delegates.

Republic Srpska (entity)

RS has a two-chamber parliament as well, consisting of the Council of Peoples and the National Assembly. The Council of Peoples has the same responsibilities as the House of Peoples in F BiH but has a different structure. There are four ethnic clubs: 8 Serbs, 8 Bosniaks, 8 Croats, and 4 other elected municipal councils because there are no cantons in RS. The national assembly has 83 members elected for a four-year term, around three-quarters elected in multi-seat constituencies, and one-quarter through compensatory lists. RS also has a prime minister, but other than FBiH also has a separate president.

In addition, to the entities of RS and FBIH, the district of Brcko exists self-governing administrative unit, established as a neutral area under joint Serb, Croat, and Bosniak authority.

Current system

State Level
 Bosniak president - Denis Bećirović Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina
 Croat president – Željko Komšić Democratic Front
 Serbian president – Željka Cvijanović Alliance of Independent Social Democrats
 Chairman of the Council of Ministers – Zoran Tegeltija Alliance of Independent Social Democrats
Entity level
 RS 
 President - Milorad Dodik Alliance of Independent Social Democrats
 Prime Minister - Radovan Višković Alliance of Independent Social Democrats
 F BiH

 President - Marinko Čavara

Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 Prime Minister - Fadil Novalić Party of Democratic Action

Elections

Parliamentary and presidential elections 2022

On Sunday, October 2, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) went to the polls for the general elections, including presidential elections and elections for the House of Representatives. There were fewer political shifts than anticipated beforehand, with a consolidated dominance of nationalist parties among all three ethnic groups. As a result, reformists and multi-ethnic parties seem to be forced back into the opposition.

The newly elected triplet of Presidency Members consists of Serb member of Presidency Željka Cvijanović (SNSD), who took over the position from her party leader Milorad Dodik. Non-nationalist Croat member Željko Komšić (DF) won against Borjana Krišto (HDZ BiH) and maintains his position as a member of the presidency. Meanwhile, Denis Bećirović of the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP BiH) won against nationalist Bakir Izetbegović (SDA) for the position of Bosniak member of the Presidency. The choice for Bećirović over Izetbegović is a partial split from the nationalist-dominated political system that has prevailed in BiH for years. It is also an indication that the centre-left candidates (besides Cvijanović) who ran an anti-corruption campaign have been chosen for the seats.

The 2022 general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina showed that there is a small split in voting among ethnic lines in parts of society. Especially the election of Becirovic is a sign that multi-ethnic candidates are able to successfully run for office. However,   this progress remains relatively small and does not prevent the domination of nationalist parties in the Bosnian political system. Most Bosnians still mainly cast their votes along ethnic lines, and ethnic-nationalistic parties again hold a majority in all parliaments and presidential seats. The SDP and other multi-ethnic parties have experienced some growth and do form the biggest political actor within the Bosnian political landscape, but are most likely not in the driving seat to form a coalition government. The 2022 election shows that there are people in the country who would like to see a change in multi-ethnic politics and reform. Hopefully, this trend will further continue, and multiethnic parties will gain more ground in the future. For the new government, however, the chance of tangible reforms being carried through is not much higher than it was in the past years.

Official results BiH House of Representatives

Votes are accumulated from both FBiH and RS. Hence, a higher percentage of votes does not automatically mean a higher number of seats due to the division between both FBiH and RS.

Party

2022

Seats

2018

Party of Democratic Action (SDA)

17.2%

9

17%

Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

16.3%

6

16.0%

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH)

8.8%

4

9.1%

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

8.2%

5

9.1%

Serb Democratic Party (SDS)

7.1%

2

9.8%

Democratic Front – Civic Alliance (DF-CU)

6.4%

3

5.8%

People and Justice (NiP)

5%

3

1.4%

Party of Democratic Progress

4.6%

2

5.1%

Our Party (NS)

3.1%

2

2.9%

People's European Union-For New Generations (NES)

3%

2

New

For Justice and Order

2.1%

1

New 

Democratic Union (DEMOS)

1.9%

1

New 

United Srpska (US)

1.6%

Bosnian-Herzegovinian Initiative (BHI KF)

1.3% 1

 

New

Socialist Party (SP)

1.5%

0

 1.9%

 

Official results Republika Srpska entity parliament

 

2022

2018

Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

34.6%

31.8%

Serb Democratic Party (SDS)

15%

18%

Party of Democratic Progress (PDP)

10.3%

10.2%

Socialist Party (SP)

5.9%

8.2%

State Movement

5.7%

New

Democratic Union (DEMOS) 5.5% New
Democratic People's Alliance (DNS) 4.5% 14.4%

 

Results Republika Srpska Presidency

 

2022

Milorad Dodik (SNSD)

47.06 %

Jelena Trivić (PDP-SDS) 

42.48 %

 

Official results Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina parliament

 

2022

2018

Party of Democratic Action (SDA)

24.4%

25.2%

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

13.5%

14.5%

Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) – coalition

13.4%

14.4%

Democratic Front – Citizens’ Union

11%

9.4%

People and Justice - Pensioner's Party BiH (NiP-SPU)

6.9%

2.3%

Our Party (NS/HC)

5.2%

5.1%

People's European Union (NES) 4.3% New
Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina 3.7% 2.3%

Union for a Better Future (SBB-BiH)

2.8%

7.1%

 

Official results rotating presidency

Bosniak Member

Croatian member

Serbian Member

Denis Bećirović (SDP)

57.37%

Željko Komšić (DF)

55.80%

Željka Cvijanović (SNSD)

51.65%

Bakir Izetbegović (SDA)

37.25%

Borjana Krišto  (HDZ-BiH)

44.20%

Mirko Šarović (SDS)

42.74%

Mirsad Hadžikadić (PzP)

5.38%

N.a.

Vojin Mijatović (SDP)

1.86%

 

Election observers

A joint observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) and the European Parliament (EP) has concluded that the legal framework provides a sufficient basis for organising democratic elections. Nonetheless, OSCE issued a statement pointing out that failed reform efforts, widespread distrust in state institutions, and ethnically divisive rhetoric continued to characterise the electoral climate.

According to one of the leading members of the main Bosnian election monitoring coalition, Pod Lupom, 91 violations were involved. Former CEC member Vehid Sehic believed that the several dozen were below average thanks to adequate action by the responsible institutions. Pod Lupom disclosed that there were noticeable improvements compared to previous elections. The slow counting of votes however did question the integrity of the elections. Following Trivic’s defeat in the initial count of the votes, a recount was requested and granted by the Central Election Commission. After the recount, Dodik’s victory was confirmed for a second time, despite allegations of fraud remained. The voter turnout stood at 51,5%, which is roughly 2% lower than in the 2018 general elections.

2020 local elections

The most recent local elections in BiH were held on 15 November 2020, in which citizens could vote on the councils of 143 municipalities, as well as the mayors of 22 towns and cities. The elections yielded interesting results, with the opposition parties managing to deal a strong blow to BiH’s three major nationalist parties. The Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Bosnian Serb Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) will still remain in control over the largest number of municipalities, but none of the parties were celebrating after the election results came in.

It seems like a trend that started during the 2018 general elections, with multiethnic opposition parties booking some minor successes, has continued. Although the voter turnout remained beneath 50%, the voters who cast their ballot sent a strong message to the governing parties. Already prior to the election, it was predicted that the SDA, SNSD, and HDZ would be punished for their poor performance and ongoing corruption scandals, amid the country’s COVID-19-related health, political, economic, and social crises. 

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SDP BiH)

Party Leader: Nermin Nikšić

Number of seats: 5

http://sdp.ba/

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Logo of Socialist Party of Republika Srpska

Socialist Party of Republika Srpska (SP)

Party Leader: Petar Đokić

http://socijalisti.ba/

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Other Parties

Logo of Party of Democratic Action

Party of Democratic Action (SDA)

Party Leader: Bakir Izetbegović

Number of seats: 9

http://www.sda.ba/

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Logo of Alliance of Independent Social Democrats

Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

Party Leader: Milorad Dodik

Number of seats: 6

http://www.snsd.org/

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Logo of Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ-BiH)

Party Leader: Dragan Covic

Number of seats: 4

http://www.hdzbih.org/

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Logo of Serb Democratic Party

Serb Democratic Party (SDS)

Party Leader: Milan Miličević

Number of seats: 2

http://www.sdsrs.com/

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Logo of Party for Democratic Progress

Party for Democratic Progress (PDP)

Party Leader: Branislav Borenović

Number of seats: 2

http://pdp.rs.ba/

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Logo of Our party

Our party (NS)

Party Leader: Edin Forto

Number of seats: 2

http://www.nasastranka.ba/

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Biographies

Image of Denis Bećirović

Denis Bećirović

President

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Image of Željko Komšić

Željko Komšić

President

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Image of Željka Cvijanović

Željka Cvijanović

President

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Image of Fadil Novalić  (Source: https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/novalic-sljedeci-mjesec-sve-penzije-ce-biti-povecane-za-2-5-do-3-5-posto-osim-onih-najvecih/180409104)

Fadil Novalić

Prime Minister

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Image of Milorad Dodik

Milorad Dodik

President of Republika Srprska and Leader Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

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Image of Bakir Izetbegović

Bakir Izetbegović

Speaker of the House of Peoples of BiH

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Image of Nermin Nikšić  (Source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/niksic.sdp/photos/)

Nermin Nikšić

Leader of the Social Democratic Party

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Image of Christian Schmidt (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Christian_Schmidt_(51554749990)_(cropped).jpg)

Christian Schmidt

High Representative for BiH

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