Despatch from Sarajevo International

In search of political stability

A minor political candidate is seen hanging from a crane along the main road near the Central-Bosnian town of Zenica.

A minor political candidate is seen hanging from a crane along the main road near the Central-Bosnian town of Zenica.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Every evening at 6, a crowd of around 200 gathers in the city centre of Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated ruling entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to protest against the death of David Dragičević, a young man who was found dead in March. Various cities in the country, including the capital city of Sarajevo, have witnessed protests since the murder seeking “truth and justice”, but their demand may be drowned out by the election spectacle. Protesters, headed by Dragičević’s father Davor Dragičević, accuse the government of covering up his son’s “murder”. The government, which initially constituted an investigating committee, later dissolved it even after the panel found Dragicevic was murdered.

Bosnia and Herzegovina goes to the polls on Sunday to elect the national presidency and members of the House of Representatives. Dragičević’s death may have rattled the campaign, but the main talking point is the country’s EU accession. Post-war Bosnia’s Constitution is a product of the Dayton Accord, drawn up in its namesake city in Ohio in 1995 and signed in Paris. It was meant only to end the war that broke Yugoslavia and, hence, offered little foresight for the country’s stability. Under the current system, three members are elected for the Presidency from Bosniak, Serb and Croat ethnicities and each gets an eight-month term as Chair of the Presidency. At the last count, 53 political parties are contesting the elections. Across party lines, EU integration remains the top priority. “The western Balkan countries should be part of the EU soon. The border issues will become irrelevant if we become members of the EU,” said Sefik Dzaferovic, a candidate for President from the Bosniak party, SDA. That, of course, is easier said than done. A 2016 report by the German political think tank Friedrich Ebert Foundation on the EU integration of Bosnia painted a less hopeful picture. “After two decades of an intense and robust state-building process, BiH (Bosnia) still exhibits a number of characteristics of failed states,” it reads. It noted that the decentralised government structure is a particular challenge for stability.

Issues ranging from murder of a youth to EU accession dominate discussions while Bosnia and Herzegovina goes to polls to elect the national presidency and Parliament on Sunday Sense of urgency

But aspirations run high on the topic of EU accession and there is a sense of urgency when political parties talk about the topic. Neighbouring Macedonia has been waiting to join the EU since 2004 and Serbia’s accession has been under discussion since 2007. The EU, on its part, has set the ball rolling to admit Bosnia in the union and initiated the process with a questionnaire to assess its readiness.

“We recently answered more than 3,200 questions that ran to 20,000 pages,” Denis Zvizdić, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told reporters. “Seventy-eight per cent of Bosnians support EU integration.” For an outsider, it may seem obvious that the country’s electoral structure and Constitution need an overhaul, but politicians are betting that the EU membership offers a one-stop solution for the country’s many troubles. Traditionally, about 60% of Bosnians vote in elections, registering little faith in the complex electoral process that excludes minorities such as Jews and Roma to contest the polls.

Whether Dragicevic’s murder protests have any impact on the elections remains to be seen. For the electorate, there may be a lot to choose from at the ballot box. But with no signs of electoral reforms on the cards and no immediate plan of joining the EU, elections are fought on just one time-tested modus operandi — overstated political promises.

Prathap Nair is a freelance journalist and was recently in Bosnia.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 7:35:11 PM |

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