Bosnia Herzegovina’s multi-ethnic parties scored unprecedented victories over their nationalist opponents in presidential elections held last Sunday along with other local and regional ones. Nationalists have dominated the Balkan country’s political landscape since the end of the war nearly 30 years ago. These results could lead to a moderation of the bitter political debate and open the door to a reform of the confessional system created by the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, as well as to overcoming a long political crisis that has caused the blockade of the institutions.
The victory of the multi-ethnic parties for the presidency represents a relief for the defenders of a strong central state that can face the Bosnian Serb independence challenge. However, in the absence of definitive results, everything indicated that the nationalist parties will retain their dominance in Parliament. “Bosnians are very proud of our diverse identities. Until now, that led to voting only for parties in your community. But this is gradually changing,” says Haris Idriz, former director of the only secondary school in Mostar where Croat and Bosniak students mix.
Although the elections covered four different administrative levels —up to 14 parliaments were chosen—, the local media focused their attention on the direct election to the country’s presidency, the most symbolic. The Dayton agreements establish a tripartite presidency with a representative from each of the country’s three main ethnic groups: Serbs, Croats and Bosnians — of Muslim religion. For the first time in history, two of the three presidents, the Bosnian and the Croat, will belong to non-nationalist parties.
The Bosnian president will be the social democrat Denis Becirovic, who defeated Bakir Itzebegovic, son of the Bosnian president during the 1990s war, Alija Itzebegovic. Never before had his party, the nationalist SDA, lost a presidential election. For his part, Zeljko Komsic, from a multi-ethnic progressive party, will repeat another term as Croatian representative after having clearly imposed himself on the nationalist Borjana Kristo, who led a coalition that included the historic HDZ party. The Serbian presidency will remain in the hands of the secessionist SNSD party, whose candidate was Zeljka Cvijanovic.
According to several experts, the results are an expression of the growing boredom with the traditional nationalist class. However, HDZ spokesman Angelko Masclac disagreed with this interpretation at the party’s headquarters: “We don’t have the final results yet, but I don’t think the parties you call multi-ethnic have received more votes. The SDA continues to be the most voted party among the Bosniaks, and we among the Croats. Simply, these parties have won some contests now because they were united in a coalition, ”he assured on Monday.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Controversy in the Republika Srpska
The debate on the results was overshadowed by the decision of the high representative of the international community, the German Christian Schmidt, to impose various far-reaching legal changes minutes after the polls closed, which has unleashed an avalanche of criticism in the country . In social networks, there was talk of a “colonialist coup”. Analyst Samir Beharic believes that Schmidt has sent “a negative signal” to all the voters who queued at schools on Sunday. Through the figure of the high representative, the international community still retains the power to protect the country’s political institutions, and also maintains a military mission led by the EU, EUFOR. Washington immediately expressed its support for Schmidt, while the EU limited itself to “taking note” of a “unilateral” decision.
The German diplomat explained in a message addressed to the nation that his objective with the reform is to facilitate the formation of the various governments, limiting the ability of the parties to introduce vetoes. In the last three years, the Bosnian-Croat autonomous entity has not been able to form a new Executive due to disagreements between Bosnians and Croats. Also, in order to accommodate Croatian demands, Schmidt has introduced changes to the electoral law. With all these changes, Schmidt wants to stimulate the political class to review the Constitution established by Dayton, because in addition to being not very functional, several rulings from both the Bosnian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that it discriminates against some citizens for their ethnicity
These elections have left another great controversy in the Republika Srpska, one of the two autonomous entities in Bosnia. The two main candidates – Milorad Dodik, from the ruling SNSD party and a close ally of Putin, and the opposition Jelena Trivic – have declared themselves winners. At first, Trivic was leading the count, but on the night from Sunday to Monday there was a turnaround that her party attributes to large-scale electoral fraud. “We will not give up. Trivic has won”, declared the leader of the opposition PDP, Branislav Borenovic. Although both Bosnian Serb parties are pro-sovereignty, the PDP has not supported the separatist process announced by Dodik last year, but has not yet been implemented.
Follow all the international information in Facebook Y Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.