Politieke ontwikkelingen in Bosnie-Herzegovina

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Hieronder zal ik een korte schets geven van het politieke landschap in Bosnie-Herzegovina in de aanloop naar de verkiezingen op 1 oktober.

The beginning of 2006 saw the arrival of Milorad Dodik and his Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) on power in RS. Dodik was eager to leave the mark on the RS political scene, and at the same time started building his support also on some of the achievements of the previous government. By mid 2006 SNSD was not only gaining grounds at the entity level, but also became a dominating political party in many municipalities, sometimes ensuring majority by mercilessly removing opponents from executive offices. Already then it became clear that the forthcoming elections in October 2006 in Republika Srpska (RS) will be marked by the rivalry between SDS and SNSD, and polls and analysts mostly agreed that the SNSD will be one of the winners of these elections.

One of the most significant political developments which have undoubtedly triggered the unofficial election campaign was the process of Constitutional Changes. The US Embassy in Sarajevo put some significant efforts into gathered leading political parties in attempt to agree on first serious Constitutional changes, 10 years after Dayton Peace Agreement was negotiated. At the end, the marathon session of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly did not result in the adoption of the proposed changes. This reinforced political division within the parliaments, resulted in a split in some coalitions and also affected some parties internally. The anti-changes campaign was led by by then already almost forgotten Haris Silajdzic, the founder of Party for BiH (SBIH). With his rejection of "superficial changes" and avocation for the abolition of entity voting, but also with using at times rather radical ethnic language, he profiled himself for the election race and it looks very probable that he could get elected to the Bosniak seat of BiH Presidency.

This year's discussions on the status of Kosovo seems to have triggered rather radical statements from RS politicians, the most famous one came from Milorad Dodik -the president of SNSD and currently Prime Minister of the RS Government. At various occasions, Dodik indicated a possibility of a referendum on secession of RS, if RS is not treated respectfully within the country. Many RS officials and party figures embraced this idea, while the Federation BiH-based parties were quick in calling for sanctions against Dodik and SNSD. Although his statements were at first taken rather lightly, with the time his position attracted quite significant attention, also in the international press. Milorad Dodik also publicly promoted the idea of straightened the ties between Serbia and RS. However, the official start of the pre-election campaign and warnings of the High Representative on possible removal in case he continues speaking about the referendum made Dodik more cautious, although did not stop him entirely.

The leading Federation BiH opposition party, Social Democrat Party (SDP) seems to be another potential winner and it has been positioning itself on the political scene for some time now. The party remained mostly indifferent to nationalistic rhetoric, and was mostly focused on social needs of rapidly impoverished constituents. Earlier in the year, it built its campaign on attempts to change the VAT percentage and/or introduce zero percentage for some essential products. The SDP candidate for the Presidency could well be supported and represents an alternative to otherwise rather nationalistically coloured major Croat Parties.

It will be very interesting to see how the voters will be distributed on the Croatian side of the political spectrum. The leading Croat political party, Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) was recovering from internal split and loss of several prominent party members throughout the year. Its rival, the political party registered as HDZ 1990 quickly recruited disillusioned HDZ supporters and several pro-Croat parties into a rather disunited coalition. HDZ 1990 was also publicly advocating for a third entity - the idea which appeals to a number of voters. The election of Dragan Covic for HDZ BiH president last year did not only cause the split within the party, but also separated the HDZ BIH from its sister-party in Croatia. Their communication boiled down to occasional meetings and visits to BiH officials. Despite problems and divisions however, the HDZ BIH seems to remain the major political force among BiH Croats.

Although actively campaigning in the past days, the Peoples Party Working to Prosperity (Narodna Stranka Radom za Boljitak), and its leader Mladen Ivankovic Lijanovic, seems to stand less chances for success, although this party is a one of the very few which build its programm mostly on economy related issues-the issues which citizens of this country often rate as the most important ones.

We can conclude that the political campaign before these elections started with the attempt to change the Dayton Constitution and developed into a rather heated and at times also dirty race. Blatantly stimulated by growing nationalistic rhetoric of main political parties, the tensions in the country were rising and the relations especially between the entities were worsening.

The political parties and their leaders mostly concentrated on blaming each other for political and economic stagnation of the country. Some developments further complicated already shaken political culture and divided national parties even further, for example the verdict of the International Crime Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to convict and then release Bosniak war commander from Srebrenica, Naser Oric.
Early August 2006 provided even more materials for heated discussions: the tape, featuring torture of Serb civilians and soldiers by Croatian Army with alleged involvement of the Army BiH troops in 1995 was shown on some TV stations in Serbia, and broadcasted also in BiH.
The tombstone of Alija Izetbegovic, first BiH President, was demolished. And RS-leadership was more and more reducing its enthusiasm for state-level reforms.
This week's reactions to the signing of a special agreement between RS and Republic of Serbia, and the ICTY verdict against Momcilo Krajisnik-right hand of Radovan Karadzic illustrate that this period of mutual accusations and growing tensions, building on ethnic animosity is not yet over.
The campaigning period, and the language and topics used will also make it rather difficult for most parties to enter into coalition discussions, and it might take quite some time before the institutions of this country are up and running-all this on the ewe of some important decisions and reforms to be undertaken.

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