Negotiations on changes to the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been going on for a long time and it can be understood as a key political issue for the country. The whole process got very concrete outlines in the period after the 2018 elections when the functioning of the state was almost completely blocked. A particular problem is related to the political climate in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina due to tension between Bosniaks and Croats.
The long-standing frustration of HDZ BiH (Croatian Democratic Community) head Dragan Covic exploded after his loss in the presidential election to Zeljko Komsic. Accusations that Komsic was the "second Bosniak member of the Presidency," therefore not Croatian, led to a serious cracking of relations not only with the major Bosniak political party (Party of Democratic Action) but also with the Islamic community of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.
The desire to introduce the principle of ethnic voting and representation into the election law became dominant in the HDZ. For the HDZ agenda to be realized, the government of the Federation of BiH was not formed according to the results of the 2018 elections, and it is still the case. At least three ministries continue to be headless due to leaving for other positions or death, even as Prime Minister Novalic has been in a technical mandate for almost four years. All this happened due to the blockade created by the President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marinko Cavara, one of Dragan Covic's close associates.
A series of talks that took place under the auspices of international mediators did not lead to a convergence of positions. Special envoys from the US, EU officials, and Quinta ambassadors (US, Italy, Germany, UK, and France) tried to find the basis for an agreement, but all failed. Although there was a great interest from domestic political representatives, it seemed impossible to reconcile the two concepts that had imposed themselves over the years. The first sought structural reform through constitutional changes that would lead Bosnia and Herzegovina to a civil state and the second pursued to cement ethnic representation.
2 concepts, no reconciliation
The first concept was strongly advocated by Bosniak political subjects; thus, it was wrongly recognized as the Bosniak desire to establish dominance. In this way, both Serbs and Croats established their relationship towards normalization and building of a state based on European and universal values. Unfortunately, the mentioned envoys, especially those who represented the US government, accepted this attitude and advocated changes that would meet the ethnonational demands, especially the demands of the Croat side.
This was expressed quite clearly by every representative from Washington (Palmer, Cholet, Escobar) who had only one formula for Bosnia and Herzegovina – one state, two entities, three peoples, and changes to the election law and the constitution. After several meetings, two questions became essential: "What would be the method of electing members of the presidency?" and "What would be the way of functioning of the House of Peoples to prevent possible blockages related to the establishment of the entity's government?" And quite interestingly, in the final negotiations in the city of Neum, it became clear that the second question is of key importance for HDZ, and not the election of a member of the presidency, as it seemed until then.
That change came about when it was noticed that the SDA was ready for the election model of a member of the presidency, which was proposed even though it was almost devoid of democratic standards and ensured the safe entry of HDZ candidates into the presidency. Reducing the powers of the House of Peoples, on the other hand, was the steadfast position of the SDA. The Federation entity is the engine of the state and the functioning of the government must never be called into question again as in the period between 2018 and 2022.
In the end, this whole episode revealed clear positions: The Croats are leading a policy that will define their rule in a certain territory that they consider an exclusive national space. The Bosniaks are trying to lead the process of reintegration of the state. International representatives, on the other hand, are trying to get certain Bosniak politicians to accept this undemocratic approach that would give the Croats vast powers.
Protests over possible changes to election law
When it seemed that the issue was over without any results and that it would continue after the elections to be held this October, the information appeared like a bolt from the blue that the high representative, German Christian Schmidt, would impose technical and political solutions to the election law and make constitutional amendments. While technical changes were unquestionable even before, the political ones disrupted the essence of political life and, unfortunately, were on track to appeasing the Croatian factor in the country.
For sure, the announcement caused anger among the pro-Bosnian forces, which led to protests in Sarajevo. The political changes that would define the way the Federation government is formed will allow the HDZ to rule for at least the next 50 years.
It seemed that the HDZ was incorporated into the constitution following this intervention, which is paradoxical. Nevertheless, the support of the US and UK to the high representative was not lacking, which was the most direct message that the arrangement of Bosnia and Herzegovina based on the principle of the ethnic constituency is also their agenda.
Western democracies are ready to impose a solution that will give enormous powers to the HDZ, which is leading to great dissatisfaction among Bosniaks, making it a case of the unequal value of the vote.
Finally, after having faced the protests and possible destabilization of the state, Schmidt made a Solomonic decision. He imposed technical changes and asked the political actors to agree on a set of political amendments, for which he gave a deadline of six weeks. Otherwise, he will impose what he has already decided with minor corrections. What does it mean? Covic and HDZ need to wait without doing anything for the six weeks to expire. Then they will get what they want. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially for Bosniaks, the message is devastating: "We support the rule of democracy, but there always will be more equal among equals" echoes in our ears.