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The 2016 Local Elections in Bosnia: a Win for the Major Ethno-nationalist Parties

October 4, 2016

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: for deeper insight from this author on political and social change in modern Bosnia, see her e-book, 20 Years after Dayton: Where Is Bosnia and Herzegovina today?

By Lana Pasic

On October 2, 2016, the seventh local elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although 3,263,906 citizens had a right to vote, the election turnout was low, as in the previous years, seeing only 53.88% turnout, according to preliminary results, with 6% of votes being invalid. Some 30,027 candidates were in the running for the positions of mayors and their place in the city and municipal councils.

bosnia-2016-elections-photo-1-lana-pasic-balkanalysis

Political rivals peer from campaign posters in Bosnia, ahead of local elections.

The election campaign: referendum and war-mongering 

This year’s election campaign was intense and aggressive. Door-to-door campaigning, persistent telephone calls, promises of jobs, and offers of vote-buying have all been present in previous elections as well, but this year political parties seemed to have more zest and determination in ensuring a victory for their candidates.

Irregularities were reported both before and during the election process. The watchdog body Pod Lupom (Under the Magnifying Glass) reported 173 critical situations and 125 cases of citizens reporting misconduct or irregularities during the elections – the largest number since the Dayton Peace agreement was signed in 1995. These cases included minor and major issues, from pressuring and influencing voters, to people voting several times.

In one of the municipalities in Herzegovina, Stolac, the polls were closed early and elections are to be repeated due to irregularities, and to a physical attack on the president of the municipal electoral board, as well as to alleged irregularities in the voting process.

The only municipality where no elections were held was Mostar. The last local elections in Mostar were held in 2008, and since then, the political stalemate has prevented citizens from casting their votes, as Bosniak and Croat parties have not been able to reach an agreement on the electoral regulation, nor for local administration.

The political parties and candidates have touched upon all topics, with few references made to the actual authorities and tasks of the local governments. The campaign in Republika Srpska was run around the referendum for keeping the date of January 9th the national day of the entity. With 55.67% election turnout and 99.81% of the votes for “yes”, the referendum (which took place just a week before the elections) secured Dodik’s Independent Social Democrat’s Party (SNSD) strong support and a large percentage of votes.

On the other hand, in the Federation, the candidates went as far as discussing the potential for the emergence of another armed conflict in the country. The persistence of ethno-politics and war-mongering were just some of the tactics to mobilize the electorate and ensure the support for the “protectors of the national interest”, which are the main ethno-nationalist parties – Izetbegovic’s SDA in the Federation, and SNSD in the Republika Srpska.

Winners and losers: ethnic nationalism and a weak left

The preliminary results unsurprisingly indicate that SDA and SNSD have maintained and entrenched their positions as the strongest political parties in two entities.

The SDA and SBB alliance won 34 municipalities. The alliance between the two largest Bosniak parties in the Federation was made in 2015, after the leaders of the two parties were in a fierce competition for the seat in the presidency during the 2014 elections.

In Republika Srpska, SNSD won in 26 municipalities, extending its influence in certain towns which were previously in the hands of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). Meanwhile, the  Croatian Democratic Alliance (HDZ) won mayoral races in 18 municipalities, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 8 municipalities.

Although the preliminary results indicate victory for the nationalist and conservative blocs, in the Federation, a closer look at the statistics, particularly in Sarajevo, indicates that there is still significant support for the options on the political left. However, these are fragmented across several parties – SDP, Nasa Stranka, DF and the newly established GS. Following the failure of the once major leftist party, SDP, in the previous elections, the party has come back stronger, maintaining its position in Tuzla, and winning several other municipalities.

The election results, although disappointing to the progressives, are not at all surprising, particularly after the 2014 elections, and considering the state of the weak and fragmented opposition, as well as low election turnout.

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