Capital Sarajevo
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 387
Mobile Codes 61,62,63
ccTLD .ba
Currency Bosnian Convertible Mark (1EUR = 1,96 BAM)
Land Area 51,129 sq km
Population 4 million
Language Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Major Religion Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

Bosnia’s General Elections: the Candidates, the Voters and the International Community Editor’s note: Bosnia’s voters are at the polls today, voting for new candidates to fill positions across the board. But even before the results are in concerns are being felt over the quality of the major candidates, the possibility that the international community will not accept the results on legalistic grounds, and the dysfunction of the negotiated political structure itself.

By Lana Pasic

Bosnians go the polls today in the country’s sixth general elections. The elections are considered as crucial for the current government. The election campaign was aggressive, with widespread criticism of the current establishment.

According to the Central Electoral Committee, 7,877 candidates are in the running. They are competing for 518 seats, including the positions in the Presidency, National Parliament, Entity Presidents, Vice-presidents and Parliaments, and ten cantonal Parliaments.

Presidential Candidates

The extremely complicated political system in Bosnia & Herzegovina divides ethnic-based vote-casting by entity. Voters in Republika Srpska can vote for a Serb member of the Presidency, while the voters in the Federation will elect the Bosniak and Croat members.

There are 13 candidates for the post of the Presidency of which 10 are the Bosniak candidates, 4 Croats, and 3 Serbs. Although the post itself is one with limited potential to make real social or economic changes and gives little space for creative or independent foreign-policy-making in the context of Bosnia, it is the one which has received the most attention.

Bosniak Candidates

The electoral campaign for the Bosniak member of the Presidency has mostly been focused on the following men: Bakir Izetbegovic, a current member of the Presidency; a controversial media mogul, Fahrudin Radnocic; the former Reis-ul-ulema of the Islamic Community Mustafa Ceric; Emir Suljagic of the newly established Democratic Front, and Bakir Hadziomerovic, from the Social Democratic Party.

Izetbegovic, a son of the late Alija Izetbegovic, the well-known former Bosniak leader, is current member of the Presidency. He has been widely criticised for poor policy, perceived corruption and links with controversial Saudi companies. His opponent Radoncic has, through his newspaper, fingered Izetbegovic in several controversial construction deals and political murders.

Fahrudin Radoncic, a former Minister of Security, who was fired after the refusal to use force against the protesters in February, has the biggest media empire in the country, and to a large extent, shapes the public opinion through his daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz. In the run-up to the election campaign, there were insinuations made of his involvement in organised crime and links with the Kosovar Naser Keljmendi, allegations which he has denied. No charge has been brought against him in relation to this case.

The fierce competition between Izetbegovic and Radoncic, through which they have implicated each other in various criminal activities, has been enriched by the Democratic Front’s candidate, who, by some polls is seen as the favorite. Suljagic is known for his work as a journalist and writer from Srebrenica, and an author of the Srebrenica-themed book Postcards from the Grave. He has reunited Bosniak political parties in Republika Srpska, and has worked on the rights of returnees, particularly in the Srebrenica area. He served briefly as a cantonal Minister of Culture in 2011-2012, when he quit after he received threats and was not able to implement his attempted reform of the place of religious studies in the education system.

Mustafa Ceric is running as an independent candidate. His candidacy was quite a surprise, considering that was a Reis-ul-ulemma of the Islamic Community in Bosnia for over 20 years, since the beginning of the war as a close ally of the senior Izetbegovic. Even during his religious posting, he was unusually active in politics and known for Islamic-nationalist rhetoric.

Hadziomerovic, a journalist and TV host, has been known for his criticism of the political establishment. He is the choice of the Social Democratic Party, which has been losing support due to the citizen’s disappointment with their performance after gaining majority in the 2000 elections.

There are another five candidates for the Bosniak member of the Presidency: Mirsad Kebo, current Vice-President of the Federation, Sefer Halilovic, a wartime Army commander, Džebrail Bajramović, from the Party of the Diaspora, and two lesser-known independent candidates, Adil Zigic and Halil Tuzlic. However, based on the pre-electoral polls, their chances are seen as quite minimal.

Croat Candidates

When it comes to the Croat candidates, there are four choices. Martin Raguz has had a long political career, having been a member of the Croat Democratic Alliance, since the early 1990s, and has already served in the Federal government, and briefly as the member of the Presidency in the 1997-1998 period.

A second candidate, Zivko Budimir, is the current President of the Federation, which has had a dismal performance over the last years, provoking widespread social dissatisfaction and protests this February. Third, Dragan Covic, from the Croat Democratic Alliance, was already a member of the Presidency in the 2002-2005 period, but was dismissed by the Office of the High Representative, then run by the very active High Representative Paddy Ashdown. The final candidate is the relatively unknown Anto Popovic, from the newly-established Democratic Front and a candidate of the current member of the Presidency Zeljko Komsic.

Serb Candidates

Although there are three candidates from Republika Srpska, the real competition is between the current Prime Minister of RS, Dodik’s former interpreter and ally, Zeljka Cvijanovic, and an economist and former Prime Minister of RS and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mladen Ivanic. He lost the run-up for the Presidency during the last election, by only 1.6% of the votes, with claims of election fraud in the interest of Dodik’s candidate and current president, Nebojsa Radmanovic.

In the Serb entity, the election battle is also evident at the entity level, between current President Milorad Dodik, and opposition candidate Ognjen Tadic.

But Are These Elections Even Valid?

Although the campaign has been run aggressively, it seems that everyone has forgotten that the Council of Europe, and the international community have indicated that they may not recognise the results of the elections, because the discriminatory constitution, which forbids minorities from running the elections has not been changed, in spite of numerous deadlines given to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In 2009, the Council of Europe ruled that the current regulations are based on discrimination against minorities, and are against the principle of the right to free elections. No progress has been made yet on the Sejdic-Finci case, and it remains one of the great obstacles for Bosnian democratic system, and certainly not the one that either Bosnian politicians, or the international community can resolve on their own.

Who Will Vote?

Election turnout in Bosnia has never been great, barely topping 50% during the 2012 elections. This year, although 3,278,908 voters have been registered – a slight increase over last year – it is not certain how many will vote. USAID has started a new election campaign to motivate the citizens to cast their votes; however, Bosnian citizens have often chosen to express their widespread disappointment by simply not turning out at the ballot box.

This year, those born after the war will also have the chance to vote for the first time. The big question is whether they will vote differently, or will they vote at all.

In light of the social protests which shook the country this February, and the lack of government response during the floods this spring, there is an increasing hope that the population will, this time, actually go to the polls.

It is important to remember that just by simply changing the faces in political office, the system itself, and the constitutional and institutional muddle that Bosnia is in, will not automatically change, but that the actual reforms will depend on the elected candidates’ commitment to the betterment and their willingness to cooperate. However, in a country like Bosnia & Herzegovina, the reforms will also have to include balancing the various foreign interests vested in the Dayton Peace Agreement with consideration for Bosnia’s potential EU future.