Bosnia Fixes Election Law, Enabling Formation of Govt

A controversial decision to fix a dysfunctional election law can enable the formation of a new government and prevent looming financial collapse in the country’s Federation entity, but Bosniak parties will appeal against it.
Bosnians in line for general elections Photo:EPA

Under strong local and international pressure, Bosnia’s Central Election Commission, CIK, on Tuesday adopted a decision fixing the country’s dysfunctional election law and enabling the establishment of a new government in the Federation entity, which it has lacked since last October’s elections.

The formation of a new Federation government by the end of the year would stave off a looming financial collapse in the entity.

The CIK adopted the decision by a 5-2 vote, as the two Serbs, two Croats and one ‘other’ ethnic delegate on the CIK outvoted its two Bosniak representatives.

The decision becomes effective after it is published in the Official Gazette, but this will probably be postponed since several Bosniak parties and officials have already condemned the ruling as unconstitutional and have announced they will appeal against it at Bosnia’s Constitutional Court.

“This is a solution that perhaps will not be a solution, considering [upcoming] appeals to the [state-level] Constitutional Court,” Zlatiborka Popov Momcinovic, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told BIRN.

Popov Momcinovic said that the CIK’s decision was not acceptable to most Bosniak parties and politicians, including the leading Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, and the leftist Social Democratic Party, SDP.

The decision and its consequences is likely to further heighten political tensions in the country and Bosniak partes’ objections are likely to delay the establishment of new governments at various administrative levels of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s complex political system. The absence of a Federation government to adopt a budget by December 31 would also freeze the entity’s finances.

The US embassy in Sarajevo and the EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a statement welcoming the CIK’s decision, arguing that any disagreements with it “should be resolved through available legal means, and the government formation process should not be held hostage”. 

The CIK’s breakthrough came after months of difficult negotiations on this complex and deeply controversial issue. The problem arose in 2017 after Bosnia’s Constitutional Court removed parts of the election law regulating the establishment of the Federation’s House of Peoples, the upper house of the entity’s parliament, finding them to be unconstitutional.

But the state parliament, which is ultimately responsible for amending the state election law, failed to do so after months of petty and populist political quarrels, as key Bosniak and Croat parties proved to be too far apart over how the issue should be resolved.

After general elections were held with the incomplete electoral law, the issue was passed to the CIK, which was theoretically capable of fixing the problem with a ‘back-door’ technical solution.

The CIK, which had already been under serious political pressure for years, found itself at the centre of heated political quarrels and media campaigns, with its officials warning that this was preventing them from reaching any solution.

International officials have met CIK officials repeatedly in recent weeks, putting their own pressure on the electoral commission in the hope that its decision would prevent political and financial deadlock and the possible collapse of the Federation entity.

The main point of difference between various Bosniak and Croat parties and politicians was whether the CIK would base its eventual solution on the last pre-war census from 1991, or if it would use the most recent official one from 2013.

Many Bosniak politicians claimed that the use of the 2013 census would violate the Federation constitution, which identifies the 1991 census as the basis for the formation of new governments in the entity. They also argue that accepting the 2013 census as a basis for the establishment of new governments – before the process of the return of wartime refugees has been completed – would cement the process of ethnic cleansing.

Yet several local and international officials told BIRN that an additional reason for the row over the issue was the fact that both options give small but crucial advantages to either Bosniak or Croat parties seeking to establish ruling coalitions in the Federation entity and at the state level.

Almost as soon as the CIK announced its decision, which was based on the 2013 census, the SDA issued a statement saying that itviolated the Federation constitution, and vowed to appeal to the state Constitutional Court.

Experts said this means that political pressure over the issue will now move from the CIK to the Constitutional Court.

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