Last update: 9 months ago

Since the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in 1995, nationalistic parties have dominated the political scene in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The local elections held in 2016 and the national elections of 2014 reflect this tendency. The outcomes of these elections show no real shift, especially as there is a tendency to vote along ethnic lines and for nationalistic parties. The situation in the country is not very stable however: Serbs and Croats are working together towards further federalization of the country. The third ethnic group, Bosniaks, are heavily opposed to this initiative. Meanwhile, the co-signers of the Dayton peaceagreement Serbia and Croatia, are not helping to stabilize the situation either: the leading party in Croatia, sister party of HDZ in Bosnia, is even supportive of the initiative to federalize the country, which in the case of HDZ means creating a third Croatian entity. With regards to the EU integration, Bosnia-Herzegovina is lagging behind on 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 consensus needed to work on further EU integration.

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Map of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Short facts

3,861,912 million (World Bank 2016 est.)
Governmental Type:
Parliamentary republic
Ruling Coalition:
Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Union for a Better Future of BiH (SBBBiH), Croation Democratic Union (HDZ), Croatian Democratic Union 1990 (HDZ 1990), Serbian Democratic Party (SDS)
Last Elections:
2 October 2016 (local elections)
Next Elections:
2018 (presidential elections)
Sister Parties:
Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SDP BiH)

Political Situation

The Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) signed in 1995 to end the war in BiH, determined the Bosnian constitution. As a result, the political system is a complex and an inefficient one. The country is composed of two political entities, Republika Srpska (49 percent of territory) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (51 percent of the territory). In addition, the Federation is divided into ten cantonal units. 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 to 700 elected state officials and more than 140 ministers. As a result, the state system measures approximately 60 percent of the state budget. The EU High Representative, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, 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 F BiH and the Republic Srpska will be referred to as RS.

Political developments in the past few years
In 2014 the popular appetite for social change manifested itself in mass protest in the Federation. The trigger for them was the closure of privatised companies and, consequently, the loss of many jobs. The spontaneous worker’s protest reflected widespread discontent with politics, political corruption and the economic situation. In the aftermath of these demonstrations people on the streets started organising themselves in so-called Plenums (open parliaments of citizens), which, to a certain extent, proved to be a new democratic instrument. This bottom-up platform for change succeeded, among other things, in forcing the government of the Tuzla canton to resign. Independent experts with no political affiliation set up a new local government in consultation with the Tuzla Plenum. The Plenums, however, lacked the political vehicle to achieve sustainable change.

In October 2014 F BiH citizens, again, voted along ethnic lines. The Bosniak majority in the Federation voted for the conservative Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbs in RS voted for nationalist Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Milorad Dodik and Croats for the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the party that objected the Croat member of the BiH rotating presidency because he was not a ‘real’ Croat candidate, meaning not from their ranks. The multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Democratic Front (DF, a SDP split off) obtained respectively 10 and 13 percent of the votes and ended up in opposition.

In June 2015, a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and BiH entered into force. The next month parliament adopted a Reform Agenda on socio-economic advancement as well as the advancement on the area of judiciary, but the leaders of the RS refused to sign it. In 2016,  political elites in the country finally managed to agree upon a reforms agenda that will lead to concrete steps in the EU integration process and applied officially for EU membership in February 2016

In September 2016, Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Serb-dominated entity, conducted its planned referendum about the entity’s annual public holiday despite Bosnian and international warnings. RS President Dodik initiated it as a test for a referendum on independence, openly discussing that BiH as a country has no future. BiH’s Constitutional Court has already ruled the day as discriminatory and thus unconstitutional, because it discriminates against non-Serb residents of RS. The result of the local elections held on 2 October 2016 show a continuation of the dominance of nationalist parties and nationalist tendencies within BiH.

Local elections results

Party No. of municipalities won Party No. of municipalities won
 HDZ  18  SNSD  26
 Alliance of SDA and SBB  34  HDZ  18
 HDZ 1990  3  SDP  8

HDZ = Croatian Democratic Union, conservative, Croat Party

SDA = Party for Democratic Action, conservative Bosniak (muslim) party
SNSD = Alliance for Independent Social Democrats, Serb party
SDP = Social Democratic Party, left wing multi-ethnic party

Multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its split-off Democratic Front (DF) have managed to slightly increase their support, mainly in urban areas. Furthermore, the elections were marked by the shocking victory of five candidates who were convicted of crimes (including one war criminal) and 14 other candidates who are accused of crimes or are under investigation.

The local elections in Stolac, an ethnically divided town in the south, were halted following a series of irregularities due to a conflict between Croat head of the election commission Ivan Peric and Bosniak mayoral candidate Salmir Kaplan. The elections were repeated on 19 February 2017, and are perceived as a test of whether Bosniak and Croat parties in general can work together and compromise on the difficult issues between them

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 have 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 a proof that Croats and Serbs want to divide BiH, something they say will, and cannot, happen in a peaceful way. It is this dynamic that puts all issues in an ethnic jacket of which the ethnic parties profit. Even if citizens know the party of their choice is corrupt and will bring no change to their socio-economic 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, in order 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 implementation of civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The international community’s High Representative (HR) in BiH, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, 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 between members of the PIC Steering board that 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 of the world.

The road to EU-membership 
The two Western Balkans states that are de facto a protectorate of the International Community, Kosovo and BiH, are lagging behind in the EU integration process compared to their neighbours. On the one hand BiH has not been able to implement reforms that would move the country further towards EU accession, while on the other hand the political elite 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 have proved to be a major obstacle. As a consequence the EU’s strategy regarding the country changed from reform related conditionality to socio-economic challenges it faced. A written commitment to reforms by the BiH institutions and leadership led to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) entering into force in June 2015.

The process of establishing the SAA took more than ten years, initiated only after BiH agreed on reforms set as a condition by the European Commission (EC) in its Feasibility Study published in 2003. In the sixteen areas identified by the EU that needed reform, reform of the defence, the police and the establishment of a state law on the public broadcasting system proved to be the most difficult areas to meet EU conditions. This was due to the reluctance existing within RS entity, opposing strong state government at the expense of the entity’s power. Only in 2008 the obstacles were overcome, resulting in new agreements visa facilitation and readmission, as well as an interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues. As a consequence of the political deadlock after the 2010 elections no further required reforms were implemented and the country fell even further behind in the EU integration process. The ethnic and political division and the lack of willingness among the political elite to move forward as the status quo benefits the ruling elite seem to be the main reasons for the slow implementation of the reforms. Pressure from within the society has proven to be crucial for achieving progress. Clear and achievable goals, such as visa liberalisation, are important tools for making concrete steps on the road to EU membership.

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. Freedom House gave Bosnia and Herzegovina a score of 55, citing a decline in civil liberties “due to officials’ failure to comply with constitutional court decisions, including one prohibiting a referendum in the Republika Srpska”. 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 represent and serve its citizens.


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 from the parliament of the F BiH. The House of Representatives has 42 members. Two third is 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 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 Primie Ministers operate.

The Presidency
The presidency consists of three persons 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 F BiH. They rotate every eight months on ethnic principle.

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (entity)
Similar to the state-level, the entity F BiH has a two-housed 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 F BiH’s leader is a Prime Minister.

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, due to the fact that 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 F BiH also has a separate president.

In addition there exists the district of Brcko which is a self-governing administrative unit, established as a neutral area under joint Serb, Croat and Bosniak authority.

Current system

State Level
 Bosniak president - Bakir Izetbegović Party of Democratic Action
 Croat president – Dragan Čović Croatian Democratic Union of BiH
 Serbian – Mladen Ivanić Party of Democratic Progress
 Chairman of the Council of Ministers – Denis Zvizdić Party of Democratic Action
Entity level
 President - Milorad Dodik Union of Independent Social Democrats
 Prime Minister - Zeljka Cvijanovic Union of Independent Social Democrats 
 F BiH
 Prime Minister - Fadil Novalić Party of Democratic Action


Parliamentary elections

On Sunday 12 October 2014, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for the central parliament and the state level presidency, in which the latter consists of three presidents. The presidents represent the three ethnicities in the country: Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian. Next to that, the elections also included the entity level assemblies in both the Bosnian-Croat Federation and the Serbian Republika Srpska. For the latter, a new president was to be elected.

National Parliament of BiH (state-level parliament), 2014
The SDA and the SNSD were the main winners of the 2014 elections, with the SDA winning ten seats in the government, whereas SNSD won six. In the months following the elections, the central Council of Ministers has been formed, and is led by Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic of the SDA. A new Entity Cabinet is endorsed in the Republika Srpska (RS). This entity government is comprised of four parties under Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).

The big loser during the October elections was the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which slid from 24.53 percent of the votes during the 2010 elections to 9.45 percent of the votes in 2014. The slid-back comes as most SDP voters were disappointed with the lack of reforms, the deteriorating economic situation and the slow progress in the fight against corruption. In addition, SDP faced internal struggles as high ranked party official Zeljko Komsic left the party and established a new party: the Democratic Front (DF).

Official results BiH House of Representatives

Party Seats 2010
 Party of Democratic Action (SDA)  10  7
 Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)  6  8
 Serbian Democratic Party (SDS)  5  4
 Democratic Front  5  0
 Union for a Better Future of BiH (SBBBiH)  4  4
 Social Democratic Party (SDP)  3  8
 PDP-NDP  1  1
 Croatian Coalition (HDZ) 1990    1  2
 BiH Patriotic Party-Sefer Halilovic  1  0
 Democratic People's Alliance  1  1
 Party for BiH (SBiH)  0  2
 Party of Democratic Activity  1  0
 Socialist Party  0  0
Total 42 42

Republika Srpska parliament and presidency (entity-level), 2014
The Serb Democratic Party (SDS) lost its status as leading party in Republika Srpska to the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) in 2006. However, in the 2014 elections many Serbs turned back to the SDS (formerly led by war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic) which got 32.64 percent of the votes with 5 seats in parliament. SNSD still came out as the main party in Republika Srpska with 38.46 percent and 6 seats in parliament.

Official results Republika Srpska entity parliament

Party % of votes Seats % in 2010
 Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)  32.28 %  29  38.00 %
 Serbian Democratic Party (SDS)  26.26 %  24  18.97 %
 Democratic People’s Union (DNZ BiH)  9.22 %  8  6.09 %
 Party for Democratic Progress (PDP)  7.38 %  7  7.55 %
 Domovina  5.22 %  5  0* %
 Party of Democratic Action (SDA)  5.13 %  5  2.66 %
 Socialist Party  5.09 %  5  4.23 %

*This coalition Domovina or ‘Homeland’ exists out the following parties: Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Party of Democratic Action, Democratic Front, Croatian Party of Rights, Union for a Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2010 these parties contested separately in the elections.

Results RS Presidency

 Candidate  % of votes
 Milorad Dodik (SNSD)  45.40 %
 Ognjen Tadic (Coalition Together for Srpska)  44.28 %
 Ramiz Salkić (Domovina)   3.63 %

Federation of BiH parliament and presidency (entity-level), 2014
Bosniaks massively moved away from the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) which greatly won the previous elections. Instead, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), a Bosnian party, became the main party in the Federation (27.87 percent), and on national level (18.74 percent with 10 seats in state level parliament).

The Croats largely re-elected their nationalist parties with the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) gaining 7.54 percent of the votes nationwide, giving them 4 seats in the parliament.

Formation of the state government and the government in the Federation entity have been completed in March 2015. In the end, Fadil Novalić of the SDA was chosen Prime Minister. In the Federation entity, the formation was delayed as more time was needed to select the Serbian deputies for the entity assembly’s House of Peoples. The House of Peoples was not yet officially constituted. Therefore, a candidate for vice presidency of the entity could not be proposed, which delayed the appointment of a premier-designate. Indirectly, the absence of Serb deputies therefore halted the formation of government at state level. The majority of Serbian seats in the Federation House of Peoples belong to the SNSD and the SDP. 

Official results F BiH

Party % of votes Seats % in 2010
 Party of Democratic Action (SDA)  27.79 %  29  20.22 %
 Union for a Better Future of BiH (SBBBiH)  14.71 %  16  11.89 %
 Democratic Front (DF)  12.90 %  14  0 %
 Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)  11.93 %  12  10.64 %
 Social Democratic Party (SDP)  10.14 %  12  24.53 %
 Croatian Coalition (HDZ 1990 – HSP Croatian Party of Rights)  4.04 %  4  4.68 %
 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Patriotic Party (BHPP)  3.72 %  4  2.73 %
 Party of BiH (SBiH)   3.30 %  3  7.63 %

Presidential elections

Regarding the results of the elections, four developments can be extracted. First, 19 years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which unified the three aforementioned ethnicities, citizens are still voting among ethnic lines. Second, the 2014 street protests have not caused many changes in the division of power. Third, opposition leader Mladen Ivanić (Party of Democratic Progress) defeated Zeljka Cvijanovic (the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) in the election for the tripartite Bosnian State presidency. This is noteworthy, as the re-elected President of the Republika Srpska shares the same party as Zeljka Cvijanovic: the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats. Fourth, Željko Komsić’s new party, Democratic Front, received more votes (12.90 percent) than his former party, the Social Democratic Party (10.14 percent). Željko Komsić changed parties in 2012 due to disagreements with the leadership of the Social Democratic Party.

Official results rotating presidency 

Bosniak Member Croation Member  Serbian Member 
 Bakir Izetbegovic (SDA)
 - 32.86 %
 Dragan Ćović (HDZ)
 - 52.20 %
 Mladen Ivanic (Coalition Together for Srpska)
 - 48.69 %
 Fahrudin Radoncic (SBBBiH)
 - 26.78 %
 Martin Raguź (HDZ)
 - 38.6 %
 Źeljka Cvijanović
 - 48.69 %
 Emir Suljagić (DF)
 - 15.12 %
Źivko Budimir (HSP)
 - 6.26 %
 Goran Zmijanjac
 - 3.66 %

With 32.86 percent of the votes, Bakir Izetbegović (Party of Democratic Actrion, SDA) has been re-elected for the Bosnian position in the rotating national presidency. Dragan Ćović (HDZ) took the Croatian seat with 52.20 percent, and Mladen Ivanic (Coalition Together for Srpska) was the strongest in the Serbian elections. The latter narrowly won from Źeljka Cvijanović , who held 48.69 percent of the votes. Bakir Izetbegović was the only member of the tripartite Presidency to be re-elected, he stated the following: “I expect the presidency to be a strong engine driving this country forward on the path of reform toward reaching our most important goal — to become a rightful member of the union of free and democratic European nations.”

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Alliance of Independent Social Democrats

Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

Party Leader: Milorad Dodik

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Logo of Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SDP B&H)

Party Leader: Zlatko Lagumdzija

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Social Democratic Union (SDU)

Party Leader: Nermin Pećanac

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Logo of Socialist Party of Republika Srpska

Socialist Party of Republika Srpska (SPRS)

Party Leader: Petar Djokic

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Other Parties

Logo of Party of Democratic Action

Party of Democratic Action (SDA)

Party Leader: Sulejman Tihic

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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

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Logo of Croatian Democratic Union 1990

Croatian Democratic Union 1990 (HDZ-1990)

Party Leader: Bozo Ljubic

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Logo of Serbian Democratic Party

Serbian Democratic Party (SDS)

Party Leader: Mladen Bosic

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Logo of Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH)

Party Leader: Haris Silajdzic

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Logo of Party for Democratic Progress

Party for Democratic Progress (PDP)

Party Leader: laden Ivanic

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Logo of Alliance for a Better Future of BiH

Alliance for a Better Future of BiH (SBB-BiH)

Party Leader: Fahrudin Radončić

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Logo of Our party

Our party (NS)

Party Leader: Dennis Gratz

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Smaller Parties

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Image of Zlatko Lagumdzija

Zlatko Lagumdzija

Leader Social Democratic Party of Bosnia (SDP)

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Image of Milorad Dodik

Milorad Dodik

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

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Image of Željko Komšić

Željko Komšić

President of BiH (Croat seat) and Social Democratic Party (SDP)

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Image of Nebojša Radmanović

Nebojša Radmanović

President of BiH (Serbian seat) and Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD)

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Image of Bakir Izetbegović

Bakir Izetbegović

President of BiH (Bosniak seat) and Party of Democratic Action (SDA)

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Image of Sulejman Tihic

Sulejman Tihic

Leader SDA (Party of Democratic Action)

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Image of Vjekoslav Bevenda

Vjekoslav Bevenda

Prime-minister Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)

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