The results of the October 2 general election in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the eighth since the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, showed that the country’s citizens had been appalledly defeated by segments of the government. ruling nationalism.
Bosnia’s postwar politics were dominated by a group of nationalist parties that maintained power by fostering factional divisions, while presiding over vast patronage networks that further consolidated power. their grasp on the populace. But after nearly three decades of economic and social stagnation and decline, Bosnian voters have clearly tasked a different coalition of reformists with the task.
But these democratic breakthroughs of Bosnian voters were marred by the inexplicable decision of the country’s top international envoy, High Representative Christian Schmidt, to impose wide-ranging amendments. to Bosnia’s electoral law just minutes after the polls closed on Sunday.
In doing so, Schmidt helped give an extraordinary monopoly to one of the nationalist parties that made up the ruling oligarchy.
The triumphs of reform
The Bosnian Constitution, an addendum to the US-brokered Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in the 1990s, is often regarded as the most complex political system in the world, one characterized by by complex power-sharing mechanisms, nearly all of which are distributed according to a rigid ethnic-sectarian lock. Instead of creating incentives for rational and conciliatory governance, the Dayton constitutional regime empowered radical nationalists, and led to nearly a quarter-century of political deadlock and crisis. prolonged panic.
Clearly designed to maintain political parity among the three main ethnic communities, Bosnia’s constitution is highly discriminatory and promotes ethnic divisions. As a result, many issues have been dismissed by both the country’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), all primarily for discriminatory reasons, especially against those Bosnia does not identify with one in three. The main ethnic communities – Bosnians, Serbs and Croats – are referred to as Bosnia’s “constituent peoples” in the country’s constitution.
Since the first of these landmark rulings, Bosnian politics has become increasingly dominated by contention between civic-oriented reformist parties and hard-line nationalist forces over their aspirations. the latter party’s desire to preserve and deepen the existing nationalist sectarian framework.
It was the growing mobilization of the citizens’ movement that helped reform forces win significant gains in the October 2 vote at the expense of hard-line nationalists, though This force still holds the highest number of votes in the legislature.
Bakir Izetbegovic, the longtime leader of Bosniak’s main nationalist party, SDA, was defeated by the Social Democratic Party of Denis Becirovic to win the Bosniak seat in a tripartite presidency. Zeljko Komsic, himself a former Social Democrat and now head of the civic-oriented Democratic Front party, won re-election for Croat office on the body, defeating a candidate from Croatia’s largest party, HDZ.
Becirovic and Komsic both earned their posts in the Federation entity, one of the two main administrative units created after the Bosnian War and home to most of the country’s Bosniak and Croat communities. Their victories mean that for the first time in history, the majority of Bosnia’s executive will be composed of leftist, anti-nationalist members.
In the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity, Zeljka Cvijanovic of the Serb SNSD party, which has run the entity since 2006, won the race for the seat of the Serb state president. But her boss, hardline separatist Milorad Dodik, won a race much closer to another Serb nationalist, albeit one running on an agenda widespread anti-corruption.
An illiberal endeavor
Under the Dayton Agreement, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) exists to protect the agreement, as well as the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which, ultimately, the High Representative is instilled by the agencies. expanded law.
It was these powers that Schmidt used to amend the country’s electoral law on October 2. It was an extraordinary development, more like an illiberal attempt than anything even more so. vaguely similar to the practice of democratic reform in a European country in the 21st century.
The various rulings of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and the ECHR called for reform of the electoral law. But Schmidt has imposed legal changes that have not even given the country’s new parliamentary cohort a chance to come up with a package of reforms of its own. In July, an attempt to come up with an almost identical package of amendments led to public protests in front of OHR’s headquarters in Sarajevo and was nearly silenced by political and civil society leaders. Local condemnation and broad coalition of legislators in nearly all major Western capitals.
In addition to the deeply immoral way that Schmidt acted, a Dutch election observer known as “a slap in the face to a lot of people” in Bosnia, it is the practical nature of his amendments that is most alarming.
Schmidt’s entire intervention focused on the implementation of the so-called Ljubic ruling of the Bosnian Constitutional Court. He did so despite the European Convention’s principle of precedence over all other domestic laws enshrined in the constitution and implicit in legal judgments, which shows that the Ljubic case was given less priority in execution than the judgments. of the EHCR. Furthermore, Schmidt’s decision went against it his predecessor’s opinion concluded that the Ljubic ruling was technically made in 2018 by the country’s Election Commission.
Schmidt chose to separate the Ljubic ruling from the remaining seven constitutional rulings of the Bosnian and EHCR courts, in order to protect the rights of minorities, language and politics, and to demonstrate the need for a wide range of broader reforms to bring the country’s constitution and electoral system in line with EU and Council of Europe standards.
Ljubic is a narrow and technical ruling, one that, if implemented separately from the others, would further strengthen the country’s existing factional regime and move Bosnia away from its ambitions of membership. its EU and NATO.
Specifically, Schmidt changed the formula for appointing delegates to the upper house of the Federal entity parliament, the House of Representatives. While his intervention was billed as a change that would give minorities more representation, in reality it gave the HDZ a permanent monopoly on the Croat’s caucus. chamber, and thus the entire chamber only needs 2/3 of the caucus. to request a veto.
This exclusivity is important because it will allow this single party, to win only about 15 percent of the national vote, to take hold of virtually all legislation and form government – as they did for much of the previous four years – without any clear path to breaking unity. their value. This is because the caucuses of member nations in the House of Commons enjoy broad veto powers on nearly all legislation, a fact that Schmidt’s ruling largely left, although with some minimal modifications to the existing veto form.
And while the HDZ has enjoyed de facto hegemony over the room, the institutional formula is such that it is at least theoretically possible to circumvent HDZ’s complete monopoly, a fact that the parties more peaceful and civic-oriented. relied on to dislodge the party from power. That possibility has now been ruled out as a majority of the seats in the newly expanded Croat caucus will actually come from the HDZ constituencies.
Bosnia is less stable
Cause of it private admission, the Croatian Government worked closely with Schmidt to implement these amendments in order to serve clearly partisan interests for its clients in the Bosnian HDZ. Media reports pointed out that Zagreb wrote a large portion of the original OHR draft of these amendments. Thus, despite their defeat in the race for the Bosnian presidency, Bosnian Croat nationalist leaders and Croatian government officials are clearly delighted by tonight’s developments. And rightly so: The Bosnians voted for progress, but Schmidt decided to reinforce the status quo.
By any subsequent objective measures, the High Representative has fundamentally violated his duty, not only by going against the provisions of the country’s constitution because of the concerns of the Government’s priorities. European Convention on Human Rights. But more fundamentally, by acting to explicitly empower a radical party that has spent months threatening violence, years of organizing a government, and clearly coordinating its moves with the separatist group. opened SNSD, and at the same time enjoyed the benefits not only of Zagreb and Budapest but also of Moscow and Belgrade, which were allied with Russia.
Rather than address any meaningful aspect of Bosnia’s years-long constitutional and political crisis, Schmidt has increased the power of those most responsible for keeping the country back. And he did so on a night when Bosnian citizens were in effect clearly expressing their growing opposition to the country’s artificially entrenched nationalist establishment.
The exact details of the upcoming political fall remain to be seen. But it is clear that Bosnia is now less stable thanks to the actions of the High Representative. Schmidt rewarded extremism and maximalism, and objectively failed to distinguish compromise and moderation between local and regional leaders. Bosnia – and Europe – will feel the consequences of this disastrous decision for years, if not decades.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.