Key political parties

September 24, 2018
Profiles of the main political parties running in the 2018 general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Rama.

Party of Democratic Action, SDA

Leader: Bakir Izetbegovic

The oldest and historically the most powerful Bosniak party, the SDA, was formed in 1990 by Alija Izetbegovic, who went to become the wartime President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The current leader, his son, Bakir, was appointed in 2015 as its third president, with mandate till October 2019. In 2015 Bakir officially replaced Sulejman Tihic who died in 2014 and was SDA’s second president.

Although the reputation of the SDA has declined from the glory days of the mid-1990s, and Bakir Izetbegovic has not matched the near-universal popularity among Bosniaks of Alija Izetbegovic, this party remains a powerful force in Bosniak and Bosnian politics.

  It is one of the key parties in the state-level parliament and in the parliament of mainly Croat and Bosniak entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The party’s aim in 2018 will be to retain the Bosniak seat on the country’s tripartite presidency, which Bakir Izetbegovic has held since 2010 after winning two consecutive mandates. In the upcoming elections Sefik Dzaferovic, one of the SDA’s vice presidents, is their candidate for the Bosniak seat in the presidency.

The party is also targeting seats in the state-level and Federation entity parliaments, as well as in assemblies in the 10 Federation cantons and in the Brcko district.

Yet SDA has been in recent years increasingly struggling with problems as several of its senior members left SDA and formed new or joined exiting parties.

In Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s mainly Serbian entity, the SDA is part of a pro-Bosnian coalition, Domovina which comprises seven non-Serbian parties aiming to take enough seats in the Republika Srpska entity to become an important factor in the next entity government.

Social Democratic Party, SDP

Leader: Nermin Niksic

Technically the successor to the old League of Communists, the SDP has been one of few parties which initially enjoyed genuine multi-ethnic support in Bosnia, consistently polling well among Bosniaks and Bosnians, and to a somewhat lesser degree among Croats and Serbs.

This contributed to SDP’s victory in the 2000 elections, when the party became the single strongest party in the country and established the state government. In the next two years, the

SDP made several major mistakes which decimated the party’s popularity and support, and led to a catastrophic defeat in the next elections in 2002.

It took the SDP eight years to return to power, but by the 2010 general elections, in which the SDP again became the strongest party in Bosnia, and established the government at the state level, it was a different party.

During this period in power, the SDP lost many of its senior officials, who established new parties or left the political scene altogether. However, the SDP became focused mostly on Bosniak voters and relied heavily on Bosniak national or Bosnian populist rhetoric. As the SDP effectively abandoned its civic ideology, it also lost most of its Croat and Serb voters.

Nevertheless, thanks to its large membership, which included numerous experts and intellectuals, the SDP remained one of the few parties with good capacity for building good economic and social programs, which most other parties copied and followed.

Similarly to all of the other main parties in Bosnia’s Federation entity, the SDP will be contesting all key political positions in the 2018 elections. Besides running for state, entity, cantonal and Brcko district parliaments and assemblies, the SDP is also competing in the race for the Bosniak member of the presidency, with their young and energetic candidate Denis Becirovic, who is currently an MP in the state-level parliament.

Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ

Leader: Dragan Covic

Historically the main Croatian party in Bosnia, the HDZ BiH has strong links with the HDZ in Croatia. Its domination of the Croatian political scene in Bosnia was damaged in 2006 when it split and a breakaway faction formed a new party, HDZ 1990. But with HDZ 1990 having since lost almost all of its popularity, it has left the Croat political scene again to be dominated by the HDZ.

The policies of the HDZ centre on lobbying for the rights of Croats in a system that they say puts the needs of Bosniaks and Serbs before those of Croats. They propose a constitutional reform whereby a third, Croat entity would be created from the Federation entity, leaving the country with three distinct, ethnically based regions, each with high levels of autonomy.

The first challenge for HDZ in the 2018 election is to keep its presidential seat. Its presidential candidate, Dragan Covic, HDZ’s president and current Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, will be vying for votes against HDZ 1990’s candidate, Diana Zelenika and Zeljko Komsic, former senior SDP official and now leader of Democratic Front, DF.

Covic and other HDZ officials have already warned that the party will boycott and/or block implementation of the 2018 election results if Komsic gets elected as the Croat member of the Presidency thanks to Bosniak votes – a scenario occurred in the 2006 and 2010 elections.

Democratic Front of Bosnia and Herzegovina, DF

Leader Zeljko Komsic

The Democratic Front, DF, was formed in 2013 by Zeljko Komsic, who left the SDP a year before. Following two mandates on the state presidency as the Croat member, and as result of his disappointment with the SDP, Komsic decided to set up a new party, offering a civic option to voters and presenting party candidates from all ethnic backgrounds.

The party’s main asset in 2018 is Komsic’s own popularity, however, according to the latest elections and recent polls, public support for him has declined after disappointing both those who saw him as a Bosnian patriot, as well as those who saw him as a civic-oriented politician.

Nevertheless, Komsic remains DF’s candidate in the upcoming elections for the Croat seat on the country’s tripartite presidency.

Alliance for a Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SBB BiH

Leader Fahrudin Radoncic

The SBB was formed in 2009 by Bosniak media and construction tycoon Fahrudin Radoncic,b who continues leading the party with a firm hand.

SBB is a centre-right, mostly Bosniak party, which has been trying from the very beginning to position itself as the main opponent to the SDA.

Although the SBB joined the SDA-led ruling coalition after the 2014 elections, it continued operating as an opposition within the ruling bloc.

Over the last two years, SBB has been a leading force in building an informal alliance of several predominately Bosniak parties – including SBB, SDP, DF and Independent bloc – that will try to topple the SDA in the upcoming elections.

In the ballot, SBB’s leader Radoncic will be running for the third time for the Bosniak position in the tripartite presidency – a race he has lost in the previous two elections to SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic.

Croatian Democratic Union 1990, HDZ 1990

Leader: Ilija Cvitanovic

Following its split from the HDZ-BiH, the HDZ 1990 initially enjoyed similar levels of success to its former party, but eventually lost its popularity and relevance to the point where in the last elections, in 2014, is won just 4.08 per cent of votes.

It was enough for the party to hold one seat in state-level House of Representatives, which Diana Zelenika took, and one seat in the House of Peoples, which is its former president, Martin Raguz took.

At the HDZ 1990’s party congress in May 2016, Ilija Cvitanovic was elected as the new president of the party after its former head, Raguz, resigned from the position due to health conditions.

Diana Zelenika, a current MP in the Bosnian state-level parliament, is HDZ 1990’s candidate for the position of the Croat member of Bosnian presidency, going up against HDZ’s Dragan Covic and DF’s Zeljko Komsic.

HDZ 1990 gathered a coalition of 10 smaller political parties under the name “Croatian community” for the upcoming elections. These parties frequently criticise HDZ for neglecting the interests of the Croat people in favour of their personal interests.

Independent Block:

Leader: Senad Sepic

Founded in September 2017, this party is built around a group of former SDA senior leaders, including Senad Sepic, Fuad Kasumovic, Sadik Ahmetovic and Salko Sokolovic.

All four – who are also delegates in the House of Representatives of the state parliament – have left or were expelled from the SDA in the past few years as a part of growing internal tensions due to what many complain to be poor and corrupt management.

Sepic, who is the president of the party is also their candidate for Bosniak seat in state presidency where he will run against his former colleague form SDA, Sefik Dzaferovic.

Republika Srpska:

Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (Savez Nezavisnih Socijaldemokrata), SNSD
Leader: Milorad Dodik
The largest Serbian party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the SNSD, is led by Milorad Dodik, President of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, RS. He will run in the 2018 election for the position of the Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency.
The party is strongly opposed to any strengthening of Bosnia’s central institutions and is calling for the return of some competencies that have been transferred from the entities to the state since the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
Dodik, who is managing the party with a firm grip, has repeatedly threatened to push for Republika Srpska to secede from the rest of the country.

Dodik and the SNSD were behind the referendum in 2016 to defy a ruling by the state-level Constitutional Court that banned Republika Srpska’s ‘statehood day’.
The party’s breakthrough came in 2006, when it swept the board in the general elections, becoming the strongest Serbian party in the state-level parliament and winning 41 out of 83 seats in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska.
Following the 2006 election success, and confirmation of that in 2010, the party became the largest Serbian party in the country, supplanting the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, which Radovan Karadzic once led.
For the past 12 years, the SNSD, together with its coalition partners – Democratic People’s Alliance, DNS, and Socialist Party, SP – remained in power in the Serb-dominated entity.
Without the support of DNS, the SNSD would not have been able to form a government after the 2014 election, and according to recent opinion polls, a similar situation will remain after the 2018 election.
In the last two years, several former top officials of the main Bosnian Serb opposition party, SDS, have joined the DNS. These include Ognjen Tadic, co-chair and MP in the House of Peoples in the Bosnian Parliament, as well as Borislav Bojic, Bosnian Parliament member and former member of the SDS’s main board.
Serbian Democratic Party (Srpska Demokratska Stranka), SDS
Leader: Vukota Govedarica

In a bid to unify and strengthen itself, the embattled main opposition Bosnian Serb party, the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, elected Vukota Govedarica as its new chief after its defeat in local elections in 2016.
Founded in 1992 by Radovan Karadzic, the SDS until 2006 was the most popular Serbian party in Bosnia, enjoying near-total domination of the political scene in the Republika Srpska.

The SDS has continued to enjoy significant success, despite – or perhaps because of – the indictment of several of its former leading figures, such as Radovan Karadzić and Momcilo Krajisnik, by the UN war crimes tribunal.
However, over the years, international sanctions and pressure has taken its toll and forced SDS to change and reform. The gradual democratisation of the SDS undermined its popularity and position among radical voters in RS. The SNSD used the SDS’s situation to win points among voters in the 2006 election, nabbing key positions, forming the entity government and taking hold of the entity presidency – and stayed in that position for eight years.
Throughout this period, the SDS remained the main opposition party in Republika Srpska. In 2014, the SDS also became part of the ruling coalition at the state level, together with the main Bosniak and Croat parties. However, it did not bode well for the SDS since, in the period between the two elections, several highly influential members, deputies in the RS and Bosnian parliament, left the party dissatisfied with the way it was functioning.
Some, like Nenad Stevandic and Zlatko Maksimovic, founded new parties, while several others joined DNS. All now operate as a part of the ruling bloc of Milorad Dodik.

Over the past few years, a part of the SDS has turned into a constructive, pro-EU force, while other SDS officials – mostly at local level – remain as hard-line as they were during the 1990s wars. This dichotomy keeps weakening the SDS, with the party now operating not as a singular political body, but as a loose group of individuals connected mostly – if not exclusively – by their personal drives for power.
To challenge SNSD dominance, the SDS has formed an opposition coalition with the third-biggest RS party, the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP-RS, the National Democratic Movement, NDP, and several other parties. They are gathered in the Alliance for Victory, until recently known as the Alliance for Changes.
The Alliance agreed to have joint candidates for the RS president and for a Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency. As such, party chief Govedarica will run for the entity’s presidency, while PDP-RS’s Mladen Ivanic, the current Serb member of the state presidency, will run against Dodik in an attempt to try to hold onto the seat.